It used to be that if you dined in the building that currently houses Taste of Sichuan, the most adventurous item you could order was a chili burger. Now, Swimming Fire Fish is only, like, the fourth-craziest thing on the menu.
When the Seattle-based Szechuan chain moved into the shell of a vacated Marie Callender's in a Beaverton strip mall, it exiled the pies but kept the bland decor—brown booths, slatted blinds—lending the experience a strangely nostalgic fever-dream quality once the spice-sweats start to flow.
But don't let the unassuming locale and drab interior design fool you: This is the best Chinese food in the area, and the most daring—literally, the "Wild Side" portion of the menu, featuring authentic dishes from the titular province in Southwest China, actively dares you "to leave the comfort zone and to be bold."
Ease in with the Sichuan bean jelly ($7.95), gelatinous strips of mung bean dressed with chili sauce that brings heat without being tongue-murdering. And if sour and spicy jellyfish ($9.95), pickled chili pepper frog ($14.95) and a hot pot of intestines and congealed pig's blood ($14.95) sound too overwhelming for your Americanized palate, the steamed pork belly ($14.95) is hardly ho-hum. The wildest thing of all, though? Halfway-decent soup dumplings, a unicorn in the Portland area, which are only available on weekends.
Eat: The chopped-pepper hot chicken ($12.95).
Drink: Sorry, they don't have milk. Stick with Tsingtao.
Most popular dish: Taste of Sichuan advertises itself as the "Home of the Swimming Fire Fish" ($15.95), which submerges white fish, mushrooms, bean sprouts and tofu in a spicy broth.
Noise level: 60/100
Expected wait: About 15 minutes for smaller groups.
Who you'll eat with: Chinese families handling the Chong Qing hot chicken much better than you.
Year opened: The family's original Szechuan restaurant opened in Bellevue, Wash., in 2007 as Bamboo Garden, though it's since changed its name to La Bu La. Taste of Sichuan in Beaverton opened in 2011.