Cheap Eats 2011: Sichuan Pavilion

Fish with spicy pickled cabbage is a foundational dish in the Szechuan cannon and is a familiar sight in the cafes and restaurants of the new Chinatown in northern Rockville. But you won’t find a better version than the one at this gem. Rendered in easy-to-eat medallions–as opposed to being presented whole, with bones–the flounder is delicately steamed, then blitzed with pickled cabbage and green onions.

Szechuan isn’t the monolithic cuisine of unrelenting heat it’s sometimes characterized as, and one of the pleasures of eating here is the chance to roam across a continent of flavors, textures, and styles. The common denominator isn’t spice but pungency: a bowl of garlicky pickled cucumbers, deep-fried slices of juicy smoked duck, crunchy seaweed noodles with sesame oil and garlic. There’s spice aplenty, too, most notably in the excellent ma po tofu, its thick sauce so hot it’s practically smoking.

Also good: Lotus-root salad; General Guan’s chicken, a cumin-stoked stir-fry.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.