I don’t do drugs, but I eat lots of Szechuan food, so I can’t feel my face much of the time.
The tongue-numbing mala of Szechuan peppercorns paired with the pop of glistening chili oil and potent peppers will make you tingle and ready to mingle. It’s like your mouth is on LSD, New York food writer Robert Sietsema aptly said during a melt-your-skin-off meal at Spicy & Tasty in Queens years ago when we ate dandan noodles and beef tendon doused in red oil while peeking into a sketchy-looking back-room card game.
It’s wild, the moment when you can’t feel anything but all of your senses are somehow heightened at the same time. The only thing to do is eat more. This kind of rush is habit-forming, so it’s no surprise the new Vegas outpost of LA Szechuan sensation Chengdu Taste is setting our Chinatown on fire.
This is true destination dining. Despite its hard-to-find location in the back of a strip mall that requires you to enter off Spring Mountain and drive past empty storefronts, Chengdu Taste is always a scene. Come for a weekend dinner and you might see tour buses full of Chinese passengers ready to devour cumin lamb on toothpicks or frog with tofu pudding in hot sauce. Show up for a weekday lunch with a friend and there’s a good chance you’ll be eating your spectacular boiled fish with green pepper sauce next to strangers at a communal table.
Chengdu Taste is an uncompromising restaurant. Even just touching the broth condensation on a to-go container can make your hands feel like they’re burning for half an hour. But of course, this kind of pain is pleasure for a lot of people, and this uncompromising restaurant also happens to be the most high-profile Chinese restaurant in the country.
Chengdu Taste is beloved by LA critics, including godfather Jonathan Gold, and a New York-based Serious Eats writer recently declared it to be the best Szechuan restaurant in the country. There are other Szechuan restaurants I like better (the fish soup at Legend in New York City is unassailable), but there are none as ambitious as Chengdu Taste. Since his original San Gabriel Valley restaurant opened in 2013, chef/owner Tony Xu has built an empire with two other LA Chengdu Taste outposts and the new noodle shop, Mian, he’s just launched.
Xu’s a pioneering chef in LA, but what he’s doing in Vegas is vital as well. Chengdu Taste’s success could encourage other LA-area Chinese restaurants to consider Vegas in their expansion plans. The lobster at New Port Seafood or the dim sum at Lunasia, to name just two examples, would be tremendously popular on Spring Mountain Road.
Chengdu Taste, along with Shake Shack and Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken in Downtown Summerlin and the forthcoming Dog Haus on Paradise Road, is part of a delicious trend of A-list operators from around the country realizing Vegas isn’t just about casinos. Creating neighborhood restaurants here can be good business, too.
Of course, Uber and Lyft make it easy for tourists to check out neighborhood restaurants and explore different areas. Here’s a tip for locals and out-of-towners alike: After eating at Chengdu Taste, you might want to stroll over to the Golden Tiki and cool off with some Dole Whip.
Chengdu Taste 3950 Schiff Drive, 702-437-7888. Daily, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; 5-10 p.m.