Little Szechuan

Twin Cities, Minnesota


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It's pretty much everything I want from a hot pot restaurant: The ingredients are fresh, lots of different kinds of mushrooms and tofu, lots of dipping sauces, and the staff was knowledgeable about vegetarianism. We ordered the "healthy broth," which usually comes with chicken broth, but if you tell them you're vegetarian, they'll make it without. I haven't had a chance to try the mala broth yet because I went with friends who didn't want the spicy, but they had a mala dipping sauce. It guess it could be a little cheaper, and they could have more vegan broth options, but it's so much better than the average hot pot place that I still gave it 5 stars.

Like all hot pot restaurants, only go there with people willing to eat veg (unless you're cool with meat in your broth).

It's right near the lightrail, and that's pretty cool, too.

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LIttle Szechuan on University Avenue changed to a hot pot only restaurant on June 14, 2014. The restaurant layout will look familiar, but the booths/tables are now set up with burners to keep your pot hot. For vegans, ask to sub water for the chicken stock in the mushroom soup and order either ala carte from the mushrooms, vegetables or tofu sections of the menu... or if you can't decide do a platter. We had the tofu and vegetable platters which was a lot of delicious food for two people. Don't forget to check out the spice bar, and load up on fresh garlic, chilis, scallions, cilantro and some vinegar, sesame oil and chili sauce. Insanely good, and lots of fun. Do note this is not fast food. We were there for well over an hour. If you're crying because you miss the old Little Szechuan, have no fear...they serve their standard menu at the new Oak Street location (conveniently near the East Bank stop of the Metro Green Line.)

Image for Jeff Johnson

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At Little Szechuan, I'm a fan of the spicy Szechuan tofu and the green beans. Beware the dan dan noodles—though you can get them without meat, the noodles are egg noodles.

Image for Unny Nambudiripad

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I really enjoyed the food here, and the prices are reasonable. The vegetarian dumpling appetizer was excellent. The items are not marked vegan, and the waiter didn't seem to understand what I was asking for when I asked if items were vegan. I'd definitely go back.

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The last building in beige strip mall of sorts, Little Szechuan doesn't look like much from the outside. Inside, however, the restaurant is filled with punches of color (red) and attractive sconce lighting. While the boring facade keeps the restaurant's profile on the downlow, to a certain extent, its reputation as one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Twin Cities is steadily growing.

I visited on a Saturday at lunch time. The restaurant was only about 1/3 full and the service was quick, frequent and attentive. My friend and I ordered the fried cucumbers, ma po tofu, spicy Szechuan tofu and the tea tree mushrooms. For me the winner was the ma po tofu though the spicy Szechuan tofu was a close contestant. The best part was that the two dishes were so different that I didn't regret ordering two tofu-centric entrees.

The ma po tofu was made with soft tofu in a flavorful, almost broth-like sauce. The spicy Szechuan tofu was much firmer and crusty with seasonings. My friend likened it to BBQ ribs and though it didn't taste anything like BBQ it did have a crackly exterior and firm interior that gave each cube a substantial and satisfying bite. Portion sizes of both dishes were huge and we had a lot of tofu to take home.

The cucumbers were good though in the interest of saving money I wouldn't order them again. The tea tree mushrooms were unique, chewy and flavorful. I'd like to try more of Little Szechuan's vegetable-based dishes in conjunction with one of the aforementioned tofu dishes next time I visit.

Also: Little Szechuan advertises one free dish with the purchase of another dish on your birthday. Their food is great and I can guarantee I'll lobby for a birthday dinner there to take advantage of the special.

The only complaint is one typical of many restaurants: they don't offer brown rice. They serve a giant bowl of white rice with your entree but my personal opinion that white rice lacks texture, flavor and nutritional value means I left my portion basically untouched.

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I liked my dish okay, but the vegetarian eggroll was quite mushy, and the sauce sickly sweet. The three people I was with for lunch didn't like their soup at all (too salty) ~ they didn't even eat it. And one person said his entrée was way too salty and had a burnt flavor to it. I'm not in a tearing rush to go back...

Image for conde.kedar

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UPDATE II: I am obsessed with Little Szechuan. The food here is about as addictive as it gets, and wonderfully spicy, fresh and unusual.

I just tried the teatree mushrooms in dry pot ($12) which is probably the only place in the Twin Cities where you can get a dish like this. It consists of long, flower-like chewy mushrooms with bell peppers and scallions in an unusual garlic sauce. The mushrooms are extremely chewy, but I loved them, and again, this is a dish you won't find elsewhere.

I also love the "dan dan noodles" ($5) a simple dish of wheat noodles stir-fried in a spicy peanut sauce. The dish could have used more green onions, and maybe even some bell peppers, but it was otherwise extremely tasty. Make sure to ask for it without meat.

The "stir-fried A choy" ($9) is also really great. It's basically some type of vegetable, similar to Chinese broccoli, in a garlic oil sauce. I asked them to add Szechuan peppers to it and this made it a spicy marvel.

A quick summary of the rest of this review (in case you don't want to read further): the best dishes are the spicy Szechuan fried tofu, the quick-fried cucumbers, the dan dan noodles, mapo tofu, and teatree mushrooms in dry pot.

Update One: Little Szechuan has a new menu now though the veg. dishes appear to be mostly the same, albeit with a few new options. I tried the "lily squash" ($11.50) though I was unimpressed---it was under-cooked squash with some shallots, peapods and red bell peppers. Their was no sauce and the dish fell flat.

I also had the Szechuan potato fries ($5.50) which look great in the picture on the menu, but look a little more State Fair-pedestrian when they arrive (they even come in one of those plastic baskets you get at drive-ins and whatnot). That said, I liked their crunchy texture, and they were fairly addictive. The sauce they use is sort of spicy and sticky and adds even more appeal. The portion size is huge (enough for four or more people), so I wish they'd offer a half portion at half the price. On balance, I prefer the deliciously spicy quick-fried cucumbers ($5.50)

Original review: Little Szechuan is definitely not your ordinary Chinese restaurant though it may appear to be on pure looks alone. For one thing, the menu has unusual items such as lotus root, pea tips and bamboo tips, and you have to search pretty hard on the menu to find American-Chinese dishes (such as General Tso's), which are called "traditional" and are tacked onto one of the final menu pages in much smaller font size.

The first time I went I shared a House-style tofu ($9.95) and a stir-fried pea tips ($11.95) with a friend. The tofu was pretty tasty and had the perfect level of spiciness---just enough to make you feel it, but not enough to make you reach for your water after every bite. The dish itself consisted of lightly fried tofu slabs and lots of cabbage.

The pea tips were tasty, but I'm not sure this is a great dish in itself, as it consists of just tons of pea tips in a garlic sauce and nothing else. If it came in a smaller portion it might make for a good appetizer.

The second time I visited I got to try and share a few more dishes, including the ma po tofu ($9.95), Szechuan spicy tofu ($9.95), kung pao lotus root ($12.95) and quick-fried cucumbers ($5.50). The ma po was good and had an unusual tangy flavor; that said, I prefer the ma po at Evergreen, which has slightly better tofu and also mock pork in the mix (minced pork is often times added to the sauce of traditional ma po tofu). The Szechuan spicy tofu was excellent, with fried tofu, red bell peppers and scallions in a subtly sweet and spicy dry seasoning. The kung pao lotus root was okay, and I love lotus root (it's not commonly seen on menus), but I didn't think the brown sauce's flavor they used was great (too much corn starch, as well). Lastly, the quick-fried cucumbers were amazing---very simply stir-fried cucumbers in a soy sauce with dry red chilis. This would be a great appetizer with beer and a football game.

The service was fast and prompt though I've heard it gets busy on weekend nights. The customers comprised actual Chinese people and more than a few "in the know" Minnesotans.

I wish they offered mockmeat options, or even just mock duck. Also, they don't have brown rice, which is always a devastating blow to both my taste preference and my health. C'est la vie. Little Szechuan is one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Twin Cities though I think Evergreen in Minneapolis is still the reigning king.

Image for Benjamin Kutschied

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I visited Little Szechuan with a large group and had the opportunity to try several of their dishes. This is a great place to go with several people. The service is quick and friendly and the large, circular tables with a lazy susan in the middle work perfectly for sharing dishes.

I highly recommend the szechuan spicy tofu, kung pao tofu, green beans and the stir fried pea tips. The only dish I wasn't a huge fan of was the ma po tofu. The flavor was excellent, but the tofu was much softer than I care for.

I will definitely be back just as soon as I recover from this tofu hangover. Clearly labeled vegan options and a couple of vegan dishes that aren't almost entirely tofu (vegetables or other mock meats) would easily earn Little Szechuan five stars!

Image for Dave Rolsky

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This place has some kick-ass delicious food. I'd like to give them 5 stars, but they don't have a wide enough variety of vegan options to justify that.

The options they do have are great. I've tried most of the vegan options. Their Ma Po Tofu is really, really good, the second best I've had, and the best I've had in the US. Their Szechuan Spicy Tofu is also amazing. The tofu is deep fried and crispy, and it comes with red peppers and scallions in a light chili oil sauce.

They also have a Szechuan Fried Potatoes appetizer that is basically Szechuan french fries. It's fries with a light batter (corn starch, I think) fried with chilis and some light sauce (soy, maybe). Not very authentic, but incredibly delicious.

I also love that they offer pea tips, which is a Chinese vegetable that can be difficult to find in the US. It's not always available because of supply issues. I don't blame them, because I know it's not always easy to get pea tips, especially in Minnesota.

The service is good, but on weekend nights there is often a long wait. The hostess always says 15-20 minutes, but I've waited 30-40 minutes at times. At lunch or weekday evenings, this isn't an issue.

Image for treefrog

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My favorites are the Szechuan Fried Cucumbers for the appetizer, and the Eggplant with Brown Bean Sauce for the entree.

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