Looking for good Chinese food? You’ll be drawn to Malden’s Sichuan Taste. On a Tuesday evening, the place is lively. There are couples on dates, friends sipping cocktails, and big tables full of families, with babies being soothed to sleep in their strollers. Many guests are speaking Mandarin. All are digging into big platters of food served family style, and the aroma of garlic and ginger makes our mouths water before we get to our seats.
The restaurant opened six months ago, from the same team that runs L&C Asian Restaurant in Quincy. It’s all spread out among two white-tablecloth dining rooms, and a separate bar area filled with dark wood. On the menu, you’ll find Sichuan specialties — including intestines, frog legs, and an assortment of cold appetizers — alongside the likes of pupu platters and chicken fingers.
Our meals land somewhere between entrails and eggrolls. Slippery cold noodles ($6) are served in a tasty slick of fire engine-red chile oil, topped with ground peanuts. If you prefer your pasta warm, try the dan dan noodles ($6) — essentially the same dish, but with ground pork in place of peanuts. Steamed chicken in chile oil ($9) is a starter big enough to feed a crowd, with chunks of bone-in chicken swimming in the fiery fat. These traditional appetizers vary in heat depending on the day, so be sure to ask the kitchen to amp up the chile if you like things hot. We were a bit disappointed in the sparing use of Sichuan peppercorns, which usually lend their numbing quality to many regional dishes.
Cooler weather ushers in the season for mini soup dumplings ($7), although we’d happily eat them in August. A half-dozen little pouches arrive in a bamboo steamer, each stuffed with savory broth and porky filling. Scoop up some of the black vinegar sauce, top with a dumpling, and nibble off a corner before you bite in to avoid steam burns while you slurp.
We can’t resist ordering something from the restaurant’s live tanks, which greet you at the door with an assortment of fish and crustaceans. We wrestle with a plate of two huge crabs ($18). Getting through the hard shells to reach the sweet meat is a daunting task made appealing by the compelling salt-and-pepper coating.
Chengdu chicken ($13) is drinking food — crispy, salty, juicy little cubes of meat. It’s billed as spicy, but despite being sprinkled with dried chiles, the dish is fairly mild.
The expansive menu can be overwhelming. We try to sample classic Sichuan preparations. There is a whole section devoted to dry-cooked dishes, and we order the lamb ($17). Bone-in pieces — capped with fat — can be tricky to eat, but they are tender and flavorful, if a bit gamey. The meat comes bathed in a spicy sauce and topped with fresh cilantro. It’s unclear if this is, in fact, the “dry-cooked” version, or if something got lost in translation.
If you’ve never tried water spinach ($11), order it here. The tender leaves and crisp stems sautéed with garlic are a bright foil to all that rich chile oil we’ve been soaking up.
Other good foils include icy Tsingtao beer ($4) and a Millionaires Margarita, with silver tequila, fresh lime and orange juice, and a sugar rim ($12). A manager tells us the staff is excited about the evolving bar program. Although cocktails can be on the weak side, with its house-infused spirits and easy-sipping tiki drinks like the Best Mai Tai ($9), the bar seems like a destination for college kids home for Thanksgiving and neighbors nibbling after-work dumplings with drinks.
But it’s the search for good Chinese food that draws you here. Sichuan Taste doesn’t disappoint.
290 Main St., Malden, 781-480-3671, www.sichuantastema.com
All major credit cards, wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $3-$9. Entrees $9-$23, most under $15.
Hours Daily 11:30 a.m.-midnight.
Liquor Full bar
What to order Cold Sichuan noodles, mini soup dumplings, salt and pepper crab, Chengdu chicken, water spinach
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.