Restaurant Guide 2013: Szechuan Chef

5331 SW Macadam Ave., 227-3136, 

[SEATTLE SUPERSONIC] There's something piercingly lonesome about a vast Chinese restaurant hall, something that summons a lifetime of atheist Christmases and an elusive future dreamt by immigrant ambition. Also, you know, it's just spooky empty. Few dining rooms come as retro-poignant as Szechuan Chef, a '70s-era split-level with wooden candelabras and panoramic windows looking out onto the strip malls of Macadam. The spot housed nondescript Shanghai Noble House until last year, when a Bellevue, Wash., concern launched its Portland offshoot. The menu is now packed with items rarely found in paper takeout boxes; families spin pools of deep-hued sauce on rotating table trays. The most iconic dish is the Chong Qing chicken: equal parts fried breast pieces and dried red chilies, it is essentially popcorn chicken loaded with firecrackers. Even better are the hot and spicy hand-shaved noodles, each as thick and pillowy as dumplings. Most house specialties warn of heat, and those are the ones you want to order. The Sichuan peppercorns won't scorch the palate. They're just something to warm yourself by.

Ideal meal: Green onion pancakes, hand-shaved noodles.

Best deal: Nearly every entree is generous enough to contain leftovers. Few cost more than $15.

Pro tip: Skip sweet items like the honey prawns; they tend to be cloying.

11 am-3 pm and 4:30-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-3 pm and 4:30-10 pm Friday, 11 am-10 pm Saturday, 11 am-9 pm Sunday. $$.


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