Chengdu Taste is a Sichuan-style restaurant in Alhambra that’s generated enough interest to warrant hour-plus waits and, at least during my visit, nearly enough animosity to incite a fist fight. That’s what happened when one man squatted at a table of 10 for nearly an hour, and potential diners practically bum rushed staffers to overtake the table. Thankfully, the rest of the solitary diner’s party arrived, Chengdu Taste staffers restored order, and they fed everybody. Yes, this place has serious buzz. Chef-owner Tony Xu also has powerfully flavorful food.
According to Clarissa Wei’s KCET write-up, Tony Xu, a Chengdu native, imports Hanyuan peppercorns, apparently the best peppercorns you’ll find Stateside. Their spice, which has lingering mouth-numbing properties that only gets amplified with water, factors into dishes like Sichuan Style Mung Bean Jelly with Chile Sauce, Sichuan Tan Tan Noodle, and Sliced Fish with Tofu Pudding in Hot Sauce. You’ll find peppers with a bigger burn, but not many with so strong an aftermath. While I enjoyed all of the aforementioned dishes, it was Cabbage with Sweet & Sour Sauce ($6.99) that I liked best.
No, it wasn’t Meatless Monday that inspired this choice, but for what it was, this was my favorite dish. Meaning, for a cabbage dish, this was pretty damn good. Sweet & sour sauce can be syrupy sweet, but this sauce was surprisingly balanced, washing over crisp cabbage sheets that Chengdu Taste supercharged with dried chiles and wok-split peppercorns. Yes, the spice lasted, but we had plenty of steamed white rice to help extinguish the slow burn.