Welcome to Dining On A Dime a feature in which Eater surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you want us to go next? Do share.
While some major seafood dishes such as the ma la (a spicy numbing sauce that is one of the pillars in the eight flavors of Sichuan) crawfish and house special spicy crab both clock in at over $19, Chengdu Taste does not ignore the solo diner, or budgeting visitors. With a certain ordering acumen and a bit of guidance, there isn't need to default to the cheapest dish, the "broken-hearted" mung bean jelly noodles. With thoughtful selections, it's also not unnecessary to bring a party bus full of comrades just to keep the meal at $15 per person.
At lunch, it's simplest to plunk down $8 for a plate of ma la chilled chicken noodles. Here at Chengdu Taste, the chefs, managed by Xu, listen to you, and the back of the house isn't full of demented souls hell-bent on manipulating your bowel movements for an entire week. Asking for the noodles only slightly ma la doesn't mean the staff will mock you as the white ghost. For lunch, the largest selection of dressed wontons in SGV is also at your disposable. While the ma la wonton may be appealing to the carbophile in you, there's no reason to go for the noodle, or the rice section, except during a quick lunch.
At dinner, things get rather complicated. Appetizers aren't small (Younger Sister's Diced Rabbit serves four, $12); single portioned hot pots (#66 for vegetarian, #67 for all the entrails known to the animal kingdom) can easily serve two. The giant cauldron of green pepper braised fish filet (#53), oft recommended by Xiao, effortly serves four. This is the basic ordering premise: like any good Chinese restaurant, everything is purposed for sharing. Three people will be overwhelmed by three dishes. The fuzzy math dictates roughly three dishes for four, four dishes for six, and multiples thereof, especially because undoubtedly you'll be reaching for the imported tea pots jammed full of tea leaves to extinguish the oral fire. A meal for two can be thus: sauteed herbal potatoes (#46, $8) which may be considered a plate of twerked scalloped potatoes, mama's pickled chili stir-fried fish (#69, $9). Alternatively, a plate of the Chicken in Green Pepper Sauce (#4, $9), and a vessel of sliced fish with tofu pudding (#64, $11) would more than suffice a couple. It goes without saying, everything is eaten with rice.
Be aware of the gimmick train running through the menu. Why are there tooth picks in the cumin beef/lamb? No reason at all but to differentiate Chengdu Taste from the other joints on Valley, explains the crew. And you'll be charged for the manual labor, which adds no flavor at all.
Pro tips: The menu is still being reprinted. While the second sister's numbing rabbit is indeed back (#3 on regular menu, #2 on specials board seen above), check the prices first as many items are now more expensive, while others have dropped in cost. Green pepper translates mostly as jalapeños.
Beyond pro tip: Chengdu Taste is active on Weibo (Chinese Twitter), Twitter, and WeChat (Chinese Whatsapp). Tag @Chengdutaste to give the restaurant feedback and if you're a true polyglot, send in a take-out order via WeChat.
·All Dining on a Dime in the SGV [~ELA~]