Peter Chang’s China Cafe: Catch Him While You Can

Has the master of Szechuan cuisine with a penchant for kitchen-hopping finally settled down in Virginia?
Chef Peter Chang is known for standard-setting takes on such Szechuan classics as mapo tofu. Photographs by Scott Suchman.
Chef Peter Chang is known for standard-setting takes on such Szechuan classics as mapo tofu. Photographs by Scott Suchman.

He’s back.

Sort of.

Okay, at least going for a taste of Peter Chang’s hot and
numbing Szechuan cooking doesn’t quite require a day trip, as it does for
his restaurants in Charlottesville, Richmond, and
Williamsburg.

Chang—the former Chinese Embassy chef who decamped to cook at a
string of restaurants throughout Northern Virginia and became a cult
sensation trailed by a gang of eaters no less obsessive than Deadheads—has
opened Peter Chang’s China Café in Fredericksburg, a little less than an
hour from DC without traffic. It’s the closest he’s come to the District
since leaving his Fairfax restaurant, Szechuan Boy, in 2006.

If your idea of Chinese food is beef with broccoli or you’ve
simply grown tired of too many fine-dining meals that taste the same, then
consider a visit to Chang’s world. All the dishes that brought the chef
renown are here: golden fingers of cumin-laced fried fish in a bamboo
basket; a head-clearingly spicy mapo tofu; a scallion-flecked fry
bread that puffs like a balloon and turns every head in the handsomely
appointed dining room.

Chang divides his time among his four restaurants, so if you
want to be guaranteed the master’s presence—and the exactitude and detail
on the plate that his being in the kitchen brings—then call ahead. But
even when he’s not around, this is still a tasty getaway.

This article appears in the September 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

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