Finding truly great Chinese food in the Pacific Northwest can be difficult, outside of a few major cities. In the South Sound, we are fortunate to have found outstanding Szechuan.
Tacoma Szechuan is the type of place that is best enjoyed with a group, at one of their large round tables with rotating platters. When you go, bring enough people to justify gluttony, and order as many different things as you can. A glance at their extensive menu leads to browsing, which leads to a 20 minute decision-making process ending in surrender. Here’s how the process went on our three visits: Should we try the cold Szechuan jelly noodles, the spicy chicken with rice cakes, or go for something more familiar like Kung Pao? Oh, forget it, let’s just order everything.
“This is like – Thanksgiving dinner” my friend pronounced, putting down a fork recently filled with Kung Pao Chicken. That is a strange thing to say about Chinese food, but I knew exactly what he meant. I hadn’t even wanted to order Kung Pao, thinking that it wouldn’t be all that special. I was wrong. Just the right amount of spice teamed up with ginger and a hint of sweetness to create a complexity I’d never experienced before in that particular dish.
Another familiar item we were happy to see on the menu was chow fun. At Tacoma Szechuan, this wide rice noodle dish is made with hand-shaven noodles and just the right amount of gravy. On the two occasions we ordered it, the chow fun vanished quickly.
On our second visit, light, crispy sesame shrimp were the perfect antidote to blazing hot (but good) slippery mung bean noodles, which followed a vegetable-filled hot and sour soup. My children ordered sweet and sour pork which came lightly glazed with sauce and was as delicate as the sesame shrimp.
If you are not a big fan of spicy food, don’t let the Szechuan label put you off. Their extensive menu offers plenty of options for all palates. My husband and I like our food with a little heat, but we’ve brought along a spice-challenged friend and two picky children, and they were more than happy with the milder dishes. Also fun for children: bubble tea (a smoothie like concoction with tapioca pearls at the bottom) and a large fish tank.
The food is not the only thing above average about Tacoma Szechuan. Though located in an unassuming spot on the side of the huge Paldo World Asian shopping mall, the interior is very pleasing. The setting is modern while at the same time warm and comfortable. After your meal, take some time to browse through Paldo World, a foodie paradise. Paldo World is a massive Asian grocery store with some of the best deals in the South Sound on produce, seasonings and specialty cuts of meat. Fortified with a meal from Tacoma Szechuan, you will be in the perfect frame of mind to explore acres of fresh rice cakes, sauces and brightly-packaged snacks. When you go, plan to spend an afternoon, and know that you’ll be coming back soon.