So I drive past a strip mall which is as utterly bland as its name (West Belt Plaza), next to the Willowbrook mall in Wayne, and I see a sign that says "Chengdu 23". Having a good feeling that it's not related to the awesome Chengdu 1 in Cedar Grove, and hoping it has nothing to do with the way-too-80's Chengdu 46, I pulled into the lot to have a quick drive-by look-see. It didn't look promising at all. "Asian cuisine", the sign proclaims. Yuck. Bye-bye. I put the place out of my mind. I mean, what are the odds of a random Chinese restaurant opening and serving authentic food of any kind, if the sign says "Asian cuisine".
Until the other day, when I read a bit about the place on northjersey.com. "We make home-style Sichuan ... the type of food you'd get in central China, where they like things spicier," the owner says in the article. "Well fuck me," I thought. So, you know, off I went.
Well definitely fuck me if this place isn't cooking some excellent Sichuan style food! The menu, in fact, reads an awful lot like Chengdu 1's. "Spicy chicken ding," "double cooked pork," "Sichuan pork dumpling," "dan dan noodle," "sliced pork with fresh garlic": they all make an appearance here.
Unlike Chengdu 1, the authentic items here seem to be interspersed with the Chinese-American slop, so you'll have to have some experience with these dishes to order well. You might try:
These dishes sat in their containers for the 30 minute trip home, and then another 20 minutes on the counter, whilst I freshened up and changed into my formal dinner duds...white undershirt, cargo shorts, black knee-high socks, and slippers (settle down ladies, settle down) . They were all as good as anything I've had at Chengdu 1, which really kinda bums me out, because I love Chengdu 1 and want them to succeed (Chengdu 23 will surely steal some of their business).
Methinks chicken dings, boiled beef, and ox tongue won't appeal to everyone though. As I sat patiently waiting for my to-go order, a table of middle-aged women got up and walked out. Apparently they were hoping the place still had a buffet (the old business used to). I thought to myself "that's kinda sad that they don't know how to appreciate food."
And then I thought "well maybe I'm a sad prick since I can't appreciate a buffet." Either way, we have a winner of a Sichuan restaurant. My only issue with the place, aside from the fish tank in the entrance, which I find terribly old-school and pointless, is the location: it's just as far from my house as Chengdu 1 is. Why can't something like this open closer to me? Bergen county somewhere?
More on Chengdu 23 here (click me!)
And also here (click me too!)
Chengdu 23 : 6 Willowbrook Rd (West Belt Plaza, behind Pizzerwhatever Uno) : 973.812.2800 : BYOB