What is it with this Chicago takeover? From Italian beef to char-dogs, the foods of the Windy City have been steadily drifting to the desert in the past year, and the latest wave is planting seriously creative cuisine with stylish surroundings in some of our casinos.
We’ve already had our minds blown by Yusho at Monte Carlo and Mercadito at Red Rock, and now there’s Lao Sze Chuan at the Palms, a Chinese restaurant from acclaimed chef Tony Hu. He operates a couple dozen restaurants in and around Chicago specializing in specific regional Chinese cuisines, and while his first Vegas spot takes its name from his native Sichuan, we all know casino restaurants need to please the masses, so this menu grabs dishes from all over, familiar and foreign.
Lao Sze Chuan is impressively consistent for a new restaurant. If you’re on the hunt for late-morning dim sum, congratulations. Exquisite xiao long bao pork soup dumplings ($7.95), spicy wontons, chicken egg rolls, pork pot stickers and crab Rangoon ($5.95) demonstrate how this kitchen handles savory snacks from authentic to Americanized, and that’s just one small section of this massive menu.
Don’t skip the soups and cold appetizers. Seafood tofu soup ($7.95 for a bowl that serves four) is gentle and clean, while hot and sour is much more spicy and dynamic than the version you’re accustomed to. The cold dishes require a bit more adventurous eating but are absolutely rewarding, from incendiary, texturally brilliant Szechuan-style beef and maw (stomach lining) to Shanghai-style jelly fish salad and bone-in spicy rabbit ($7.95).
Hu’s menu will expand as the chef introduces more dishes over time, but for now it’s broken into protein categories, plus vegetable and tofu dishes, fried rice and noodles, and noodle-laden soups that are intended as entrées. It can be daunting to make choices, but here are the dishes you simply cannot miss: crispy, fiery Szechuan peppercorn fish ($15.95); lamb with pure cumin ($15.95), slightly less spicy yet one of the most richly flavored dishes I’ve tasted this year; dry chili chicken ($13.95), tiny bits of tender meat absolutely saturated in chilies for a deep throat-burning sensation; and smoked tea duck ($15.95), pristine in its soothing flavors.
Simple shareable sides like Chinese broccoli in garlic sauce or vegetarian fried rice shine—there’s that consistency. Like its transplanted brethren Yusho and Mercadito, Lao Sze Chuan offers the best possible interpretations of its respective cuisine with a dash of personal style in a cool, comfortable spot fit for an evening out or a casual meal. Gotta love Chicago.
Lao Sze Chuan Palms, 866-942-7770. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight.