Chung King has long been known in the San Gabriel Valley for its mouth-numbing Sichuan food. Thanks to a Jonathan Gold review, I first tangled with Chung King several years ago at the Monterey Park original, and the spice level had me mopping my brow and begging for relief that never arrived. Round Two in San Gabriel with Mattatouille, Pat from Eating LA and other friends wasn’t nearly as spicy as I remembered. Pat was downright disappointed that Chung King skimped on the spice, but for my taste, that led to a more enjoyable dining experience.
The Chung King menu features 137 different dishes, plus Szechwan Flavors Cold Dishes, which reside behind a display case in front of the kitchen. The fairly boring-looking space hosts booths and larger tables with lazy susans. Forget passing to the left. Just spin to win.
Fried Chicken Cubes with Hot Pepper ($8.99) looked intimidating since the dark meat cubes were buried in scallions and flame-red bird’s eye chilies, which are several times more pungent than the jalapeno on the Scoville scale, but still way less devastating than the jalapeno. I wasn’t in the mood to set any spice records, and these chilies imparted more than enough flavor to the juicy yardbird.
We finished with the most ferocious dish of the night: Beef with Tofu in Small Pot ($10.99), loaded with creamy white sheets of tofu, thin strips of beef, crunchy vegetables like cabbage, and of course plenty of chilies. In this case, the chilies completely permeated the broth. There was no way to sidestep the pods, which is possible in a dry dish.
Chung King may no longer be as menacing as it was in the early Oughts, but that’s fine by me.