The eponymous entree has made this Chinatown International District spot one of the most popular to open in recent years.
Szechuan Fish is like every restaurateur’s dream, bulletproof from Yelpers and all criticism. Go ahead, complain that the namesake dish is a cheap Tilapia, that it’s frozen, not fresh from a tank like other Chinese banquet halls down the street. Or that the servers are slow to bus tables and not exactly in tune with the customer-is-always-right mantra.
The criticisms seem to just roll off. The wait is long. Once, I put my name down for a table for two, then drove off to grab a drink at a bar and returned 45 minutes later only to wait another 25 minutes. (Tip: Avoid Fridays and Saturdays.)
The mainstream doesn’t get this place. Szechuan purists gripe about its consistency.
900 S Jackson St., Seattle (inside the Pacific Rim Center in Chinatown International District); Open Tuesday-Friday 5 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.; on Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 a.m.; and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to midnight. Closed Monday; 206-623-3927
But devotees return again and again. What gives? The eponymous entree — a fried whole fish served with a choice of two other proteins and two meatless items — costs $35, enough to feed three to four. The food is a good value. Eaten over rice, the greasy, salty dish is ideal for late-night bar hoppers. That’s partly why Szechuan Fish is popular with so many Chinese-American millennials who have made this one of the most popular restaurants to debut in the Chinatown International District in recent years.
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The menu: The one-page list is divided into sections — street food such as kebabs ($1.99-$2.99); soups with tofu or fish ($5.99-$8.99); classic Szechuan dishes of pork belly or lamb (most range from $9.99-$11.99). But regulars will look at you funny if you don’t order the namesake dish.
Here’s how to order it: First, pick bone-in (the whole fish) or boneless (served in fried bite-size pieces). Second, choose your taste profile: sour, spicy, etc. Third, pick two proteins from a list of 17 that includes pork belly, quail egg and pork intestine. Finally, pick two meatless sides (16 choices from broccoli to tofu).
Don’t miss: The fried fish (ordered as “spicy” or A-2 on the menu) is served in a chafing dish that’s lit beneath, topped with at least a hundred dried chili peppers. The four selected sides simmer along with the fish in the buttery, spicy, garlicky seasoning, redolent with woody, earthy and chili notes. The longer the ingredients simmer, the saltier and spicier the entree gets. Eat it like you would a hot pot.
Slices of lamb pair well with the dried chili. Get the beef meatballs and fried potatoes for texture. And to soak it all up, pick tofu or Chinese doughnuts (like fried bread sticks). It’s easier to share if you opt for “boneless,” the coating soaking up the buttery sauce better than if it were served as a whole fish.
What to skip: If you can’t handle the heat, the non-spicy option is a mediocre consolation prize, lacking the fragrance and nuances from the mound of dried peppers. It tasted bland.
Prices: The fish and the accompanying four sides with two rice bowls totaled $40.54 before tip.