There’s a common misconception in the US about Sichuan food that it’s 100% about the heat, about cramming as much chili pepper power into a dish as possible until you’re crying and chugging more water than you’d like. That’s only partially true. Although there are many intense dishes in the Sichuan repertoire, much of the food focuses on the flavor balance of hot, sour, salty, and sweet.
I have taught Sichuan cooking for the past 12 years, first in Beijing, then in New York, and now mostly on Zoom. Students generally expect to have four-alarm experiences when they come to cook. But in addition to the delicate flavor balance, I emphasize the importance of using Sichuan pepper for the tingly mala sensation and the vital role of smokiness in many of the dishes. Some, like shui zhu yu (fish in a hot chili oil broth), are meant to have explosive heat, while others, like kung pao chicken, are intended to be more smoky than spicy. And then things like smashed cucumbers and other cold vegetable preparations are designed to be eaten as cooling palate cleansers between bites of other spicier dishes.
The first restaurants in New York that called themselves Sichuan were tentative in their approach, serving a few Americanized versions of kung pao chicken and mapo tofu alongside equally Americanized Cantonese, Hunan, and northern Chinese dishes. Heat from chili was minimal and mala flavor from Sichuan peppercorns was nonexistent, mostly because they were illegal to import to the US from the 1960s to 2005 because of a fear that they carried a disease that affected citrus trees. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)
Nowadays, we’re seeing a renaissance of Sichuan restaurants around New York. After the Sichuan peppercorn ban was lifted, more chefs were able to freely use it in their cooking, giving dishes much more flavor. And as diners began to experience what Sichuan food was supposed to taste like, the demand grew.
There are now fast-casual places, affordable mainstays dishing up the classics, more upscale restaurants that get their cues from high-end spots in Chengdu, and restaurants that put out their own bold interpretations of Sichuan staples. And while there are lots of options to choose from, these are the 15 best Sichuan restaurants in NYC right now.
This Flushing favorite loves to serve up twists on classic dishes, sometimes literally. The Chongqing chicken, crisp and delightful already, comes with little fried dough twists that add another crunchy dimension to the dish. The specialty here - shrimp, scallops, crab stick, and fried chicken served in a shovelhead - may seem a bit gimmicky at first, but the wonderful smoky and spicy flavors more than make up for it. The other dish served in a shovel, deep-fried beef with crispy rice and dried pepper, is chewy yet super juicy. And if you want to add something that’s not fried, the yu-shiang eggplant and minced chicken with bao are both excellent. The pink and forest green color scheme on the walls and chairs, as well as the quirky artwork, also make Szechuan Absolute an especially fun place to experience some intense heat.
Little Pepper has been a Queens mainstay for almost two decades, first in downtown Flushing and later moving to College Point Boulevard. Head here for one of the finest, and spiciest, bowls of cold sesame noodles in the city. The mapo tofu here is also excellent, with more mala power than other local versions and a thinner sauce. And the flavor of their preserved eggs is softened by chili oil and green peppers, with a wonderful smoothness that will make just about anyone a preserved egg convert. All of these dishes, plus other superb options like the eggplant with garlic sauce and shrimp with hot chili oil, come with an ample amount of sauce. So be sure to also order some scallion rice, cooked with so many scallions that the rice is bright green, to soak everything up.
Forest Hills is quickly becoming one of my go-to neighborhoods for amazing Chinese food, and this small restaurant on Austin Street was one of the pioneers. Since 2018, they’ve been serving up the usual Sichuan greatest hits, but with a fine touch that produces some of the best versions I’ve ever tasted. The mortar and pestle smashed eggplant and peppers, a beautifully reimagined version of fish-fragrant eggplant, has such a silky texture that it is almost paste-like. And the slow-simmered fish with chilis will make you wonder if every other white fish you’ve ever eaten was overcooked. Beyond seafood, the crispy spicy shredded beef has the perfect amount of chewiness and smoky mala flavor. You may also want to get a double portion of the smashed cucumbers in spicy garlic sauce to cool your palette throughout the meal.
This corner restaurant on Utopia Boulevard in Whitestone is ideal for anyone who wants to eat out in the vicinity of Flushing without having to deal with the nightmare of parking. Start with the “tear in eyes” appetizer, comprised of thick mung bean noodles almost completely buried under chili sauce that will make you think the dish’s name is the understatement of the century. From there, move on to any of the griddled hot and spicy pots, which you can dress up with your choice of meat, seafood, offal, or vegetables. The tea-smoked duck is crisp and juicy, and the chicken with triple pepper is a slightly lighter version of deep-fried Chongqing chicken. If you’re going with a group, add on the Chengdu fish fillet with pickled vegetables - it can feed at least six and has a phenomenal blend of tangy and spicy flavors.
Opening in Flushing in 1985, Szechuan House is possibly the oldest continuously operating Sichuan restaurant in New York, although ownership has changed several times over the years. One of the main draws here is the thinly sliced beef tendon with red chili vinaigrette, a perfect appetizer for anyone who likes slick, soft textures and a hot tangy sauce. Equally spicy are the dan dan noodles, which seem innocuous at first because of the little amount of sauce used compared to what you’ll find at other restaurants - until you realize much of the heat is in the crushed red chili paste dolloped on top. To bring a little balance, mix in some sweets with dinner, like the pan-fried sweet potato cakes, instead of saving them for the end. The sweetness and starch will help cool things down between bites of the fiery dishes.
Anyone in the vicinity of the Upper East Side with a craving for mala flavors should head to Hui on East 70th Street. The dry pepper chicken is a reimagined (and slightly more tropical) Chonqqing chicken that’s reliably crisp and loaded with snipped red chilis and sweet pineapple to balance out the spice. The dry pot stir-fries here are also excellent and come with your choice of protein, plus potatoes, lotus root, mushrooms, and an abundant amount of numbing spiciness. Bigger groups should also opt for the whole fish with chopped chilis, which comes with plenty of sauce that you’ll want to coat all over your rice and noodles. Hui also has a small, shaded outdoor area out front, which is a welcome perk that not many Chinese restaurants in the area have.
Located on the second floor of the New World Mall in Flushing, DaXi is an ideal destination for a slightly lavish group dinner out. The gold walls have a scallop design reminiscent of Art Nouveau, and some of the cushier seats are upholstered with Chinese bird motifs on the back. Much of the food presentation also seems designed to be photographed, such as Tibet-style spare ribs served in a gilded birdcage and the house special rice with cured meat that comes in a giant cast-iron crock with a handle. But be sure to leave room for the brown sugar glutinous rice cakes, fried up in the shape of mozzarella sticks, with a light crunch on the outside and a soft and chewy middle.
A relative newcomer to Flushing, Alley 41 is the brainchild of owner Yao Hua, who came to the US two decades ago from Sichuan province. He wanted to create an upscale restaurant reminiscent of Sichuan alleyways, which is why you’ll notice glass and metal screens, black matted dinnerware, and industrial chandeliers with tulip-shaped globes as soon as you walk in. But besides the unique design, Alley 41 is also home to some great dishes, like the thick sweet-and-sour noodles that are made in-house. The pork belly and cucumber rolls are another standout, and surprisingly refreshing, with a tart and spicy garlic sauce. The tender cumin lamb chops come with a mass of mala fries in the center - a fun alternative to stir-fried potatoes. Although the mapo tofu might seem boring compared to the more inventive dishes, it has some amazing layered heat and funkiness that reminds me of the best versions in Chengdu.
Part of the small cluster of quality Sichuan restaurants in Midtown, Land Of Plenty excels at more upscale Sichuan preparations while also nailing everyday classics. The camphor tea-smoked duck is perfectly done, with a strong tea aroma, crisp skin, and juicy meat underneath. The mapo tofu and cellophane noodles with ground pork - known to many Chinese by the poetic name “ants climbing a tree” - are both delicious standbys. Fish, frog, and lamb also come in many iterations that may be familiar to anyone who has spent ample time traveling around Sichuan province. However, if you’re really after some heat, try the braised goat hot pot with five-alarm intensity, which is hard to find anywhere else in New York.
Many Sichuan fans in New York know about Han Dynasty’s small East Village restaurant, but there’s also a much larger location in the basement of CityPoint in Downtown Brooklyn. You can easily fill up on appetizers that balance heat with a slightly sweet flavor, including the beef and tripe in chili oil, cold sesame noodles, and wontons in chili oil. But make sure to save room to mix and match a number of proteins with different preparations, like cumin, dry pot, and dry pepper styles. Don’t leave without trying the dry pepper chicken wings either, a fun take on Chongqing chicken that fries up chicken wings instead of thigh meat. The skin adds a layer of airy crispiness that will have your group fighting over who gets the last one.
For a setting straight out of a Chinese landscape handscroll, head to Sichuan Mountain House. There’s a large cavernous location in Flushing and a smaller outpost in the East Village, but at both, you’ll be greeted with koi ponds and bamboo booths that aim to provide the most tranquil atmosphere you can get in either neighborhood. The go-to here is the cold sliced pork belly and cucumbers with chili garlic sauce, which hang off a mini dowel like laundry over the accompanying garlic chili oil - make sure to drown the pork strips in the oil for the full effect. Sichuan standards like mapo tofu and mao xue wang (tripe, ham, and duck blood curd in chili oil broth) go right for the jugular with their intense heat. There are also plenty of traditional and inventive vegetable options on the menu, including stir-fried gourd, sautéed shredded potato, and popcorn-like corn kernels fried with duck yolk that round out the spicier dishes.
This beautifully minimalist space in the East Village is home to some of the best Sichuan dry pot in the city, and you should definitely center your meal around it. Unlike traditional Sichuan hotpot, where you cook your ingredients in a vat of chili-laced broth, here you choose from a selection of raw meat, innards, seafood, and vegetables, all to be cooked to order behind the scenes. I’m partial to anything in the seafood category, especially the roe-filled fish balls, and the vegetarian options like the meaty king oyster mushrooms, wakame, and tofu skin, which all sponge up the spices nicely. You can round out your meal with starchy favorites like purple rice, scallion pancakes, juicy boiled dumplings, or the fried and steamed mantou combo (served with sweetened condensed milk that makes the mantou double as dessert).
If you’re looking for vegan Sichuan food, head to either one of Spicy Moon’s two locations immediately. Both the East and West Village restaurants have a full menu of dishes that suit a plant-based diet, like the must-order vegetable Sichuan wontons with tofu, mushrooms, and cabbage with a thick numbing dipping sauce. The super crispy Sichuan pepper brussels sprouts with their fanned-out crunchy leaves should also be on your table. You can round out the meal with the fluffy, spicy eggplant steamed buns, dry pot tofu, and mapo tofu made with Beyond Beef instead of pork.
Husband-and-wife team Xian Zhang and Yiming Wang have been operating this plant-lined Williamsburg spot since 2017. While the communal table in the center can be great for big groups, the smaller tables also make Birds of a Feather a perfect WFH lunch spot during the day. Chef Ziqiang Lu, originally from Chengdu, is classically trained in Chinese cooking but throws unexpected touches on the menu - like the cold dish of pork and okra mini rolls and the more traditional appetizer of cold pork belly slices wrapped around cucumbers. The tofu in the spicy and sour tofu pudding is homemade and has a luxuriously silky texture. And here the Sichuan eggplant, usually stir-fried, is cut into an accordion shape, deep-fried, and served with a great sweet and sour sauce. Classics like mapo tofu and bang bang chicken are also worth ordering, in case you didn’t already have enough food on your table.
This two-floor Sunset Park spot mixes wooden tables with contemporary wall murals inspired by Chinese opera. And while there’s an extensive menu, the fish dishes are the main draw here. You can opt for paper-wrapped fish that steams in its own juices with mounds of mashed garlic, crispy whole fish hot pot, poached fish slices in chili oil, or Chongqing sour fish stew. If you’re a fan of the Chongqing chicken, the version here is also one of the best in the city with a wonderfully crunchy texture that gets infused with smoky heat. Most of the signature dishes have four-alarm heat levels, so order some cooling dishes to help temper the spiciness, like the bing fen, a street snack of cold jelly cubes. And don’t pass up the fish-fragrant eggplant, which has no fish but is cooked in flavorings that typically go with seafood, including pickled chilies and a spicy broad bean paste known as doubanjiang.