When Szechuan Impression first opened this past summer in Alhambra, lines grew quickly, praise was doled out and comparisons to the neighboring Chengdu Taste were quickly drawn. The last item is understandable—Chengdu Taste has dominated the SGV's Szechuan dining scene since it first opened. But while Chengdu Taste can often seem intimidating to those who aren't accustomed to the fiery cuisine of China's Szechuan province, Szechuan Impression is far more approachable in both food and service. It may even start to be more approachable in wait time, too; on a recent Wednesday evening, only a few tables were filled. Thankfully, the lack of diners wasn't an indication of a decline in quality. If you can handle the heat, the restaurant has a lot to offer for both Szechuan newbies and veterans.
Chef Tony Lai ran luxury hotel kitchens in Chengdu before being brought on at Szechuan Impression, but the food here is more playful than upscale. Sectioned off by tongue-in-cheek titles—Impressive Local Favorites, Impressive Soup Series, The Fullness of Life Requires a Little Sweetness After Spice (dessert)—the dishes are customizable in that you are asked how spicy you want it (though there will be judgment—our server raised an eyebrow every time we said "very spicy"), and they range from a recognizable chicken in chili oil to ginger frog and goose intestine.
There is much to be excited about here. The rice noodle in casserole is a hefty pot of glass noodles featuring cuts of thin, tender tripe, and beautiful droplets of chili oil pooling on the broth's surface. It's spicy, to be sure, but it's not so spicy that you can't keep dipping your chopsticks back in that pot, slurping up more noodles when you know there's other food to be had. My favorite of the plates that filled our table was the bowl of fish fillets (also in a scary-red chili sauce, as many of the dishes seemed to use as their base). The fish speaks for itself with its clean meat and expert preparation, but the ginger and scallions are what give it character; pair a bite of buttery fillet with some rice and you'll be thoroughly satisfied.
If you agree to peppercorns in your dish, as we did with the jumping Zigong ginger rabbit, your mouth will most likely go numb, your taste buds will taste only metal, and you'll wonder if this is normal or if you're suddenly dying (it's normal). The rabbit is fantastic, but I wish there had been more of it—the small cuts of meat contained mostly bone. This rang true for our steamed taro chicken pot as well, where the chicken feet serves more as a flavor booster and the larger pieces of chicken are actually chunks of bone anchoring minimal meat. Am I lazy for wanting to spend less time deconstructing my meat and more time eating it? Maybe. But it won't discourage me from coming back, because there are just too many fun dishes on the menu left to try: the bobo chicken, which comes on skewers that look like porcupine quills; the fried rice cake with black sugar; the duck tongue with rattan pepper. With a menu that lists something called "Cinderella's pumpkin rides," how could I not come back?
What to Eat: The Grandma's pickled cucumber ($5.99). The boiled fish filets in chili sauce ($9.99). The jumping Zigong ginger diced rabbit ($23.99). The rice noodle in casserole ($8.99).
What to Drink: Few drinks offer much-needed relief from some of Szechuan Impression's spicier dishes, but the plum juice ($1.50) helps quell the heat better than water. It's thick consistency rolls around in your mouth, leaving behind an almost smoky aftertaste. It may take a few sips to decide whether you like it or not, but I ended up loving it and could have had at least a few more glasses.
Where to Sit: Tables line the walls in an orderly fashion and there are a few in the middle of the room, but the seating here is really all the same. If you stop by on a weekend when the restaurant is at its busiest, you'll sit where the hostess tells you to sit.
Conversation Piece: "Take a photo for Facebook or Instagram and we'll take 10% off your check," we were told as soon as we sat down—and then twice more throughout the meal. Yup, this is definitely not Chengdu Taste.
|Venue name:||Szechuan Impression|
1900 W Valley Blvd
|Opening hours:||Daily 10:30am-11pm|
|Do you own this business?|
Average User Rating
4 / 5
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I'm only now getting feeling back in my mouth from the numbingly hot Szechuan peppers that find their way into almost every dish at Szechuan Impression. The quality of food here is really fantastic and if you're not fully accustomed authentic Szechuan dishes (like myself) I would suggest opting out of having the peppers added in.