One bite of the tongue-numbing mapo tofu is enough to know that this is a true Szechuan restaurant, Cantonese only in name. Chef/co-owner Liu Chaosheng has built a mini-empire in Washington with Uncle Liu’s Hot Pot, China Jade, and Cafe Hong Kong. Ironically the Palace is the most unembellished, with a plain dining room and large, value-friendly portions that arrive in haphazard order. No matter—you’re there for the kitchen, which sends out expertly crafted dishes such as smoky bacon with black beans and peppers, Chengdu salt-and-pepper shrimp tossed with garlic and chilies, and pillowy sesame balls filled with sweet bean paste.
Where you can get it: 6387 Seven Corners Center, Falls Church; 703-532-0940
Also good: Chengdu Zhong’s spring dumpling in hot chili oil; cumin lamb; dan-dan noodles; fish with pickled-vegetable soup.