Why go: This strip-mall gem turns out dishes that sparkle and zing, thanks to sprinklings of the ma la peppercorn. The authentic Szechuan offerings—the restaurant’s name is from a previous tenant—share menu space with better-than-average American favorites such as Kung Pao chicken.
What to get: Chengdu Zhong’s Spring Dumpling, filled with pork and served in a pool of chili oil; cold cucumber with cilantro; dan dan noodles with ground pork, spinach, and chili oil; fish-and-pickled-vegetable soup with cellophane noodles; a special of thick bacon with black beans and red peppers; Kung Pao chicken; fried chicken cubes crunchy with peanuts, fried peppers stuffed with sesame-seed paste, and ma la peppercorns; a dessert of sesame balls with bean paste.
Best for: Diners overwhelmed by long Chinese menus. Here the decision making is manageable.
Insider tip: Ask a server to translate the specials posted in Mandarin on the walls. Weekends mean long waits at dinner as local Chinese families settle in for a meal.
>> See all 2010 Cheap Eats restaurants here.