Bite of the Week is a weekly feature showcasing an exceptional meal or dish, curated by The Growler.
Chinese food fans who frequent University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus have a lot to keep track of—the lively scene includes mainstays like Hong Kong Noodles and Tea House as well as numerous newcomers. The latest development is a doozy: in late 2018, the owners of the Lao Sze Chuan franchise on Huron changed their name to Legendary Spice but kept the menu. Meanwhile, the Chicago-based Lao Sze Chuan empire opened another location of their restaurant two blocks away on Oak Street, taking over the former location of Little Szechuan.
Confused? All that you really need to know is that there are two Szechuan restaurants with identical menus that are locked in a life-and-death struggle for the hearts and wallets of university students and faculty.
We tried the #1 item on both spots’ “Customer Top 20 Picks” list—the Dry Chili Chicken. This iconic dish (famous throughout Chicago thanks to Lao Sze Chuan’s efforts) unites fried chunks of chicken and ribbons of sauteed hot chilis. White rice cuts the heat and soaks up any extra oil, and the dish is a hammer blow of spicy heat and crisp texture.
Side-by-side, the two interpretations of the dish were similar but not identical. The Legendary Spice version (Legendary Dry Chili Chicken) had a harder fried exterior, noticeable oiliness, and more aggressive heat. The Lao Sze Chuan version had a more yielding crispy exterior and more pronounced ginger and garlic flavors, with a cleaner, milder heat. Both versions are priced at $15.45 on their restaurant’s printed menus, but a 15% “soft opening” discount at Lao Sze Chuan brought that restaurant’s cost down to $13.15.
Even at the same price, the Lao Sze Chuan version of Dry Chili Chicken would triumph thanks to its superior frying and more complex and pleasurable mix of flavors. And with the Lao Sze Chuan soft opening discount, it’s no contest at all.
The Dish: Chef’s Special Dry Chili Chicken ($15.45)
The Place: Lao Sze Chuan, Oak Street, Minneapolis
The Reason: Complexity of flavor and deft frying make this Dry Chili Chicken for the ages