Sichuan, China is home to 30 percent of the world’s panda bears and delicious, spicy food, making it one of the best places in the world! Sitting on the plush lap of a panda bear while eating spicy deep fried chicken should be your new life goal (though I can definitely see many ethical/safety issues with doing that). Baby Sichuan over here does not exploit its panda potential but they do deliver on the food portion of my fantasy.
It was my second time visiting Little Sichuan, on University Ave in St. Paul, and I have been very pleased with the food thus far. Upon entering the restaurant, you may notice the holiday ornaments hanging overhead and be weirded out, and your eyes will need some time to adjust to the dim “mood lighting.” The walls were orange and there were various “Asian-inspired” decor elements dispersed throughout, like lanterns and such. Mariah Carey played on the sound system, though I suppose that’s preferable to something like Buddha Bar. It was definitely a nice restaurant with effort put into the decor, and not just a place to grab a quick bite. The crowd was a mix of families—some multi-generational, couples, and some college students. The table next to us seated a group of young, college-aged men, fervently photographing their food. Their food is pretty Instagrammable!
Our server was very friendly and attentive. I was never in want of water, which was wonderful. The food also arrived at our table quickly. I ordered the Sizzling Rice with the Three Delicacies, which consisted of super crispy blocks of deep fried rice with chicken, beef and shrimp in a vinegary, beef gravy. I thought that the vinegar flavor was a little bit too much, but it was still good with rice. I also had the dry-fried green beans, which were garlicky and pleasantly crunchy. These are actually deep-fried, which is somewhat disheartening because I thought that this could be a vegetable dish I could sincerely love and eat everyday. The green beans are really good though, so if you’re eating all meat and you feel like you need a veggie dish, get this one. Lastly, I also ordered the crispy duck. Duck is the best poultry in my opinion; I will straight up eat the fat alone on that bird. So I liked eating the duck, though I would not say it was the best. I think the skin could have been more crunchy and glistening. The meat was somewhat dry and they should have included a dipping sauce. But it was still duck, and it served its purpose: my satisfied consumption of it. The other time I went to Little Sichuan, I had the fish-flavored eggplant and the fried tofu and they were divine!
Little Sichuan’s menu is admirable, not only in its pure heft and variety (and color photos!) but also its loyalty to traditional Chinese dishes, as opposed to fried cream cheese wontons and fried meat dunked in sweet and sour sauce.
Final tip: 1) Try Little Sichuan and explore the surrounding area, which is full of interesting Asian markets and restaurants! 2) Don’t order fried rice at Chinese restaurants! Fried rice is the easiest thing to make at home: just leftover rice, soy sauce, plus whatever you want.