Vibrant Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, is one of the best places to experience the region’s world-renowned food heritage. Here are 10 of the top restaurants in the city, serving everything from fiery hotpots to Chinese tapas.
Lao Ma Tou Hotpot
Lao Ma Tou Hotpot offers one of the most authentic Sichuan hot pot experiences. Behind the ornately decorated, temple-style facade patrons are served massive, boiling pots of spicy broth, in which to dip exotic ingredients like frog or pig brain. For less adventurous eaters, there are milder broths with more commonplace vegetables and meats on offer. The atmosphere here is what the Chinese would call re nao (literally “warm and noisy”) – cheerfully loud and quite casual.
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Qin Shan Zhai
The dishes at Qin Shan Zhai are based on ancient Chinese medical principles. Items here are intensely flavorful: be sure to try the seared mountain yam, marbled pork with green beans, and delicate double-boiled soups. Come here for a uniquely local take on “health food”, as well as to enjoy the lovely restaurant garden and pond.
Ming Ting Fan Dian
Ming Ting Fan Dian is a typical neighborhood “fly” restaurant that has become one of the most famous places in Chengdu to enjoy a modest but lovingly prepared meal of Sichuan comfort food. The food on offer includes dishes like pork belly steamed in lotus leaves, spicy mapo tofu, and pork ribs served with pickles. The restaurant is family friendly and very relaxed, but can get quite crowded at certain times of the day.
Yu Zhi Lan
The tiny Yu Zhi Lan has only 18 seats and offers a luxurious, personalized taste of the finest ingredients and techniques China has to offer. Chef Lan Guijun is known for his minimalist but masterful interpretations of Sichuan food. The 25-course dinners here include the likes of spiced loach served with roast sweet potato, needle-fine duck yolk noodles suspended in delicate Chinese cabbage broth, and sea cucumber in a sour, spicy Sichuan broth. Every dish is beautifully presented in custom-made china, and the sequence of courses is designed to highlight each item’s unique flavors.
Yu’s Family Kitchen
Yu’s Family Kitchen is helping to raise Chengdu’s profile in the fine dining world. Run by chef Yu Bo, well known among Chinese foodies, the restaurant’s degustation menu offers more than 30 courses combining complex Chinese flavors and influences from molecular gastronomy. Highlights of the menu include rice jelly with chili and abalone, pigeon-breast meat floss, thinly sliced smoked duck, and a “paintbrush” made of beef-filled pastry and dipped into tomato “ink”.
Zhang Liang Fen
The cold noodles at Zhang Liang Fen, which are the restaurant’s specialty, are the best way to cope with Chengdu’s hot and humid summers. The eponymous Liang fen is a typical Sichuan dish made of cold mung bean noodles in chili and vinegar sauce. The dumplings in chili oil, and chewy tian shui mian (sweet and spicy noodles) are also recommended.
Wen Ya Zi
The chefs at Wen Ya Zi are experts in all things duck, which is perfectly roasted, broiled, or steamed in an impressive number of ways. In addition to the excellent food, the restaurant conveniently provides photographs of every item on the menu – a major advantage for visitors who want to experience authentic flavor but do not speak the language.
There is more to the Chengdu food scene that just Sichuan cuisine. Family-run Redbeard Burgers is one of the best international establishments in town, offering quality burgers and North American food. For a touch of local flavor, try the Sichuan burger, made with fresh, imported American beef and Chinese-style accoutrements. An extensive selection of local and rare international beers is also available at Redbeard.
Zaozishu Vegetarian Restaurant
Zaozishu is one of few excellent vegetarian eateries in meat-loving Chengdu. The restaurant boasts sleek, contemporary decor, and serves meatless versions of Chinese favorites like mapo tofu and Peking “duck” (made from tofu). The relatively central location and reasonable prices make Zaozishu a great find for vegetarian or health-conscious travelers.
The name of this restaurant literally means “Comrade Chili”, and the food here is certainly well spiced. Lajiao Tongzhi specializes in cuisine from the southeastern Chinese province of Hunan, served tapas-style. Must-try items on the menu include cumin lamb potstickers, goat cheese fritters, and spicy quail.
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