Two nights ago we drove to five, that's five, restaurants in Bergen county, looking for a place to get a quick bite at the bar. We hit our usual suspects (Park West Tavern in Ridgewood, Ho-ho-kus Inn, Nellie's, Varka, and even took a peek into Savini), but all were either packed (on a Tuesday night...what recession?) or their bars were filled with tooth-challenged (Nellie's) or otherwise unpleasent individuals. The mission was a disaster, and we just threw up our arms and headed home and made some ghetto burgers with store-bought (sssshhhhhh, mum's the word) ground beef.
On the way home, while contemplating the state of dining in this North Jersey area, I turned to the missus and said "You know, the only place that we ever go, where we are guaranteed to have a great time, where the food is always amazing, where the people and the customers are pleasant?" She knew the answer before I finished my tirade: Chendgu freakin' 23 in Wayne.
I've had countless meals here, introduced friends, coworkers, and family to its love, and not a single one has anything remotely negative to say about it. In fact, the place gets raves on top of raves from everyone I've sent there. My people can't wait to go back. It's not uncommon to hear "man, I haven't had the Du in too long. Let's make a plan." A better plan cannot be made. Of this you are assured.
I haven't mentioned this place in a few years, and I figured I owe it to them, and to you, to post a reminder: GO TO CHENDGU 23.
I've got very little to say other than that, and frankly that should be enough. But in case it's not, and you like pictures more than words, here are some of the dishes I've been shoveling into my fat face, with great joy (descriptions are from memory and may or may not be accurate)...
Prawns w/ minced pork and pickled vegetable in Cheng Du chili sauce. Deep fried shrimp shells are easy to eat, and should always be eaten. Although these aren't deep fried, I see no reason to not eat these shells, what with all of their flavor. Others at the table tend to think I'm odd when I eat them, though.
Szechuan pickles with minced pork. The Chinese are smart. They know vegetable dishes should always be peppered with ground pork. The vegetable here is likely Chinese long bean, all chopped up and pickled with flavorful pork.
I have no idea what this was, but I'm guessing it was a shredded pork of some sort. I'm also guessing it was fantastic.
File under: really not sure. I think it was a special, and I think it's some sort of smoky, fiberous, delicious mushroom.
Freakin' Ox Tongue and Tripe. This place really does this dish well.
Cold sliced pork with garlic. I think.
Sichuan pork dumpling in roasted chili vinaigrette.
Tea smoked pork ribs. These are more like knuckles, and are a great way to get your pork and smoke fix if there's no BBQ place nearby. You obviously eat these with your fingers, and you'll be licking the hell out of your own knuckles when you're done, assuming you've done it correctly.
Ma Pa Tofu. Aw, yeah. Perhaps the most frustrating dish in all of China to eat with chopsticks. The challenge just makes it that much better.
Lamb sauteed with cumin powder and chopped dry chili.
Tea smoked pork. This was probably a special. I love it, but some think it's too chewy. They just don't like to chew, I guess.
Tea smoked duck.
More garsh-danged Ox Tongue and Tripe, with next level lens.
The best freakin' shrimp toast ever you'll eat. Skip the orange sauce and ask for hot mustard. But if you go during dim sum service, skip this and get the shrimp balls.
Even more Ox Tongue and Tripe. Don't give me no lip, 'cause this dish deserves several mentions.
Lamb with chili. A recent special, with enough heat to keep you crying several times a day for 2 days.
"Firehouse Chicken". I do not like the name, but the dish is great. A bunch of stuff including thick, black, rice noodle type things, which I love.
Shrimp with yellow leeks and pickled chili. So much leek that it's almost a vegetable dish. The sauce is buttery, but I'm guessing they don't use butter. I have no idea how they do this.
Sichuan (and some other "ethnic" cuisines) are where New Jersey can really shine, even when being compared to NYC. I've had Sichuan in Manhattan and Queens, and there is simply no doubt that Chengdu 23 is producing food at least as good, and I think oftentimes better, than its counterparts across the (now very expensive) bridge. Don't pass up an opportunity to eat world-class food so close to home.
Apologies for the too-close-for-comfort pictures. With my ever-expanding stomach as a tripod, it's hard to put any distance between the camera and the food.
Chengdu 23 : 6 Willowbrook Blvd (in the West Belt Plaza, by Home Goods) : 973.812.2800