There have been a few threads about good Szechuan restaurants in Philadelphia, ranging from Han Dynasty who has scored "Top 50 in Philly" to the lesser known Red Kings. I am not an expert in Szechuan cuisine, but have eaten enough to know some of the ins and outs. I have not had better Szechuan foods than those from Four Rivers (真川味) and E Mei (峨嵋山荘). For those who are interested, E Mei was the previous Szechuan House from New Jersey -- same owner and chefs. I suspected such when I noticed the menu to be the same and the finished dishes look very similar, but I finally confirm it tonight.
In my view, these two are head and shoulders above Han Dynasty and Red Kings. Both Four Rivers and E Mei are very good. E Mei is much more decorated and upscale. Its foods are also more expensive, though not by much. I say on average 15% more. Four Rivers has more of a mom and pop restaurant feel to it, and the staffs are helpful. Sometime ago, I started to taste test Red King based on Shredded Beef with Spicy Green Pepper (小椒牛肉絲):
, so I decided to continue taste test Four Rivers and E Mei based on exactly the same dish. I actually have had this dish from these places long ago, but I decided to try them back to back. Four Rivers' was $10.95, and E Mei's was $14.95. The first photo is from Four Rivers. The second and third photos are from E Mei. They were both executed nicely and tasted very good. There are some differences.
1) The spicy peppers from the Four Rivers were cut crosswise, while the peppers from E Mei were cut lengthwise. Aside the cut, the peppers appear to be different. The peppers from Four Rivers have a thicker skin. The peppers from E Mei are thin, exactly how remember them from its previous life (Szechuan House). There are noticeably more beef from the E Mei dish.
2) The E Mei dish is noticeably more spicy in heat, and also has a numbness/tingling to it. It is possible that there are Szechuan peppercorns in the recipe. I cannot be sure, but the numbness feeling is very well known for Szechuan peppercorns.
3) The beef from E Mei has a tenderness which feels like the effect of baking soda marinating.
4) The E Mei dish has significantly more cooking oil (see the third photo). Four Rivers dish in comparison has less.
In short, I like both places and encourage people to try these two restaurants for good Szechuan foods.
By no mean this is a open and shut case. Please feel free to share your favor Szechuan restaurant. Maybe you like Four Rivers more than E Mei, or maybe you like E Mei better, or maybe hate both of them. Please feel free to share your opinions.