You’re Getting Warmer…Warmer…

Find your way to Little Szechuan and you'll be hot.

Just days prior to the deadline for this month’s column, news shot through the foodie community about a new Chinese place in St. Paul that sounded too good to be true.

I dropped all plans, bundled into the car with some friends, and headed off to check out the rumors.

Much to my pleasant surprise, Little Szechuan isn’t just one more dingy Frogtown hole in the wall. Rather, the brightly colored, pleasant interior of this dining venue has a bit of flair. Nonetheless, it’s the food that will knock your socks off.

We perused a dinner menu that boasts more than 200 truly authentic, house-specialty Szechuan dishes, where charred Asian chilis, garlic cloves, hot oils, and piquant peppers are used extensively. Among the knockouts we sampled were fiery pickled bamboo shoots bathed in a red chili oil, an exemplary kung pao chicken, crisp-fried and Chung King chili shrimp, and cumin-seasoned lamb strips.

Had someone offered to translate the 10-item chalkboard menu at the entrance, we would have surely opted for the belatedly extolled grilled beef short ribs with garlic. And had we had more room in our full stomachs, there were scads of wonderful-sounding fish and duck dishes and tempting soups that we would have loved to try.

We were a bit perplexed when our orders, including a selection from the extensive cold appetizer list, arrived willy-nilly. The limited selection of wines was disappointing, too. However, the restaurant’s charming owner Rong Bai—a realtor by profession who has never operated a restaurant before—seems to be working on both of those small detractions. Little Szechuan is terrific, and if you enjoy spicy Asian cuisine, a visit is a must.