Food

Cheap Eats 2012: China Star

Cheap Eats 2012

Many of the dishes on this bustling strip-mall restaurant’s Szechuan menu make liberal use of chilies and peppercorns, but the preparations and flavors are surprisingly varied. Addictive chili chicken, popcorn-size nubbins of fried dark meat on or off the bone, gets a dry rub of hot red pepper, complete with fiery seeds. Dried fried string beans have a slick of oil, the bite of ginger, and the numbing heat of black peppercorns. Tamer is a stew of sautéed flounder and silken tofu in a chili-stoked sauce; try some solo with a spoon—it’s that good. Some dishes don’t have any fire at all. Crystal shrimp sautéed with cornstarch looks like an amorphous jellied mass, but it’s a wonderful counterpoint to all the heat.

Also good: Pork with sour mustard and rice noodles; lamb in sizzling pot; mapo tofu; eggplant with garlic sauce in hot pot.

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