Monday, October 19, 2009

Takin' it to the Streets - Battle Szechuan

Up until about a year ago, I don't think I'd ever encountered authentic or semi-authentic Szechuan cuisine. Featuring spicy Szechuan peppercorns, chili peppers, and usually garlic flavors, Szechuan cooking was not even on my radar. Fortuantely, Kins talked up Tasty China for months when we first started going out and we finally went nearly a year ago to the day. Never a spice-hound myself, I left with a numb mouth, a full stomach and a slumber full of nightmares (yes peppery grub can induce bad dreams). But that was fine by me because the food, albeit spicy, was delicious. Even though Tasty China is tucked away, deep in Marietta, we keep returning because it's an unbeatable option for Szechuan style fare. But this weekend we found a worthy candidate for some of Atlanta's best Szechuan.

Saturday night, we ended up at Man Chun Hong. Another place that Kins recommended and eatbufordhighway had suggested, MCH is located in a Korean shopping center on Buford Highway just OTP. They have quite a bit of Korean food here but dedicate an entirely separate menu to Chinese and Szechuan cooking. We ordered very similarly to what we would order at Tasty China while here and we were extremely pleased.

So without further adieu, I give you the first ever throw-down of The Food Abides: Battle Szechuan.

Tasty China:

The Food -
We always like to start out with an order of dumplings at most Chinese restos we visit. When ordered at Tasty China, the servers will always warn you that it will take a while for it to be prepared. This leads me to two theoretical conclusion; either they don't have them pre-made for cooking or they're frozen and take time to be reheated. I'm leaning toward the frozen idea as they just aren't typically as tender as most dumplings I've had. I enjoy the dumplings here, but they just don't measure up to other places around town (primarily on BuHi and the greatly missed Eastern Pearl). Unfortuantely, I do not have a picture of the dumplings from TC.

I've had a handful of dishes at Tasty China now, but we usually find ourselves gravitating towards these two.
1. Shan City Chicken - When ordered the first time, Phuong (who we'll get to later) eyed me up and down and said, "This dish is VERY hot. Like 90% chili pepper." Intimidated I was, but I stuck with my order and my taste buds were greatly rewarded. The dish is hot, but is more likely 40% chili peppers. The real heat, I've found, comes from the Szcheuan peppercorns which stud the dish and must be avoided like tiny little landmines. If you swallow one of these (and I have) game over. The Shan City Chicken is lightly battered and fried and when cut with some rice, is Szechuan perfection. It exhibits subtle hints of garlic as well, but most of the focus is on the chilis and peppercorns.
2. Dry Fried Eggplant - It's exactly how it sounds but better. The eggplant has an extremely crisp exterior and creamy interior much like the best french fries. It's dusted with some seasoning and also cooked with chili peppers. I cant recall if they use the peppercorns in this one, but it does not pack the punch that the chicken does. It's still one of the tastiest vegetarian-friendly dishes I've ever had. It's probably the best eggplant I've ever had.
3. The Rice - Tasty China's rice is usually good with maybe two occasions of rice excellence.

The service -
The atmosphere of Tasty China is like many other typical Chinese restaurants. It's clean and usually quiet. However, the similarities stop there. The owner, Phuong is a character. She is extremely comical and will give most anyone a hard time when given the opportunity. Aside from her great personality, she can usually size you up and make educated (and usually accurate) guesses as to what you might like. Seriously, if you aren't sure, ask her. Additionally the servers also make great suggestions, always smile, and exhibit a pleasant demeanor.

Man Chun Hong:

The Food-

Thick skin - stubbornly delicious

I found the dumplings here to be much better than those at Tasty China, but they still lacked the delicate nature that really great dumplings can have. The skin of the dumpling was very dense and more heavily fried with a very crispy exterior. When done right, a pan-fried dumpling can have both the crispness from frying and some more tender/gummier skin like that of a steamed dumpling. Additionally, the meat is very tightly packed and often falls out of the skin after the first bite. The sauce was much lighter and less flavorful from the usual dark, garlicky, vinegar, and green onioned varieties I'm used to. Aside from those minor shortcomings, I really enjoyed the dumplings and an order gets you about 10 very large ones. Jalapenos add some more flavor and nice coloring.

1. Shan City Chicken - This dish was delicious, but didn't quite hold up to Tasty China's rendition. Again I got sized up when ordering it - "You know this is very spicy?" "Yup." There were slightly less peppercorns but an additional and unexpected heat element and flavor of jalapenos. The batter is not as crispy as Tasty China and the chicken is diced so small, that you can barely detect it in each bite. However, I wouldn't really hesitate before ordering this dish again as it's darned good.

2. Spicy Fried Eggplant - Notice that the title does not mention dry-fried. I thought it would be the same dish, but it wasn't at all. The flavors were very similar but the eggplant was another animal-it's battered and deep fried. This makes it moister, but also soggier and greasier. This dish again was tasty but really didn't hold a candle to the Tasty China version.

3. Rice - The rice here was incredible - perfectly moist, while still not having any clumps and perfect grain separation. I've only been to MCH once, but it's still better than Tasty China's on their best day.

The Service -
The service at Man Chun Hong was perfect. Everyone was attentive, friendly, and warm. Our waitress, Joanne, was sweet and always checked up on us with a big smile on her face. Additionally in our to-go boxes, she separated the rice and two remaining dumplings with each of our dishes to make a little lunch-box for the next day. I also really like the open atmosphere and visible kitchen here.

The Victor:

So who wins? Tasty China.

Tasty China's main courses were better (but not by much) than Man Chun Hong's and that was my draw to either of the restaurants. If this was just a dumpling battle or service battle I'd give the gold medal to MCH. That being said, this was only my first time going to Man Chun and if they can keep it consistently this good, I might tend to think they're better than Tasty China. I will also add that Man Chun Hong is slightly less expensive that Tasty China and that's a plus in my book as well. Either way, I will go and leave both establishments with the contagious smiles that the service transmits unto me with each visit. .

Man Chun Hong on Urbanspoon

Tasty China on Urbanspoon


  1. Nice post. The Shan City Chicken looks dangerous. The pics all look great...keep up the good work.

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