I can remember when Hop Woo first opened on the Westside. It was around 2000, and I was working for a solo practitioner/attorney in Bel Air at the time. I discovered them when I was running errands in the area. At that time, much like their sister restaurant in Chinatown, they were serving solid Hong Kong style Cantonese food, as well as offering a deli section with roast pork, BBQ pork, roast duck and soy sauce chicken to name a few. However, when the interest plateaued over the years, so has the quality of the food. And with that, the crowds became smaller at nights and weekends.
Recently, noticing the Los Angelinos’ craze for authentic Sichuanese cuisine, a new manager brought in a chef who specialized in preparing popular Sichuan dishes, and the result, from word of mouth, was packed dining rooms full of Chinese expats who work in the area or work/study at UCLA.
When ordering the Sichuanese dishes, ask specifically for the Sichuan 四川 menu, a paper menu, separate from the regular menu. When ordering dishes such as Mapo Tofu or Kung Pao Chicken, which appear on both menus, indicate you want the Sichuan menu preparation, so that you don’t end up with the Americanized version.
The highlight of the menu is the Spicy Chicken (口水雞, cold chicken in spicy chile oil), where the meat is moist and silky, the type of chicken meat you expect in Hainan Chicken, but only now, it’s drenched in a bath of red chile pepper oil with sesame seeds. Add Sichuan peppercorns, and you have an amazing dish that tingles you mouth nicely.
Their other dishes are quite good as well, especially when you ask them to reduce the amount of salt used in the preparation of the Sichuan dishes. Sichuanese and Hunanese restaurants in the US, for some reason, use a lot of salt in their dishes. Sometimes it enhances the Ma-La 麻辣 flavor (balance of the numbing sensation from the Sichuan peppercorns (or Ma 麻) and the spiciness from the dried red chile peppers (or La 辣). Sometimes, after the spicy burn settles, it’s just salty. Asking them to cook with reduced salt seemed to have solved that issue for us, though I wonder with the reduce salt, if it might have altered the flavors somewhat at all…
One disappointment has been the lack of Spicy Cold Jelly (Noodles). It’s never been available every time I’ve eaten there in the last 3 months. Oh, and parking here is a bitch. Arrive early to find parking in the streets in the area.
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