In the last few years, there has been an emergence of Sichuan restaurants in Orange County, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be slowing down. While most promise authenticity, others are jumping on the bandwagon for no real reason other than cashing in on what appears to be the current craze in Chinese cuisine. Some start off great, then tapers to inconsistent meals depending on when you visit the restaurant.
This ferocity in which Sichuanese cuisine has taken off is due to the astonishing number of mainland Chinese students, not to mention mainland Chinese families, who have moved here in recent years.
I remember the solid meal I had at Sichuan Impression’s LA location several years ago. This is my first visit to the Tustin location, and I’m glad we went early. A minimalist interior is welcoming, and it is refreshing to converse with servers who understand English. Just try not to use idioms or colloquialisms and you’ll be just fine.
A quick peruse of the huge menu makes it almost impossible to decide, but there are definitely dishes which stand out. Juicy Steamed Chicken in Chili Sauce ($14.99) is solid. The marinade is on point with hints of Sichuan peppercorns, but does not overwhelm the palate. We enjoyed this tremendously.
Twice Cooked Pork ($10.99) was one of my son’s favorites. Although it isn’t the way my mother makes it, the thinly sliced marbled pork are tossed with green garlic sprouts in an addictive sauce that has a hint of spiciness. Unlike regular twice cooked pork which is wok-tossed after it’s been poached, this version is less oily, and more flavorful.
I’m a huge fan of bean jelly. You may be familiar with the Korean style acorn jelly served in squares. Here, the Impressive Bean Jelly ($6.99) uses green bean jelly “noodles” served with crushed peanuts and scallions, all tossed in a sauce reminiscent of the one used in the chicken dish. I love the slippery texture of the bean noodles as well as how the sauce envelopes them.
Toothpick Mutton ($16.99) has been re-imagined by many restaurants in Orange County, including one highly popular Vietnamese restaurant. Here, the mutton morsels are coated in a seasoning dominated by cumin. There are dry chile, scallions and cilantro, which add to the fragrance of this celebrated dish.
While I’ve eaten many a ‘dry pot’ dish, this is the first time we’ve ordered squid. Spicy Fried Squid Dry Pot ($15.99) comprises fresh squid (not deep fried, and without coating), potato, lotus root, and baby bamboo shoots, tossed with a heaping handful of dry chiles. The flavors are on point, but does not permeate the squid, leaving it rather bland. The potatoes and lotus root are the stars having absorbed all the aromatic seasonings.
After visiting a handful of Sichuanese restaurants in the last six months, I’m impressed by what Sichuan Impression has to offer. I’ll be back again in a few months to see if they remain consistent.
13816 Red Hill Ave
Tustin, CA 92780