Question: I must have exquisitely tuned neuroreceptors, because I am never happier than in the moments immediately after I have consumed roasted habanero peppers, a bowl of four-alarm Texas chili or the kind of North Indian curry that seems to make smoke come out of your ears. My favorite restaurants these days, of course, are the new, real Sichuan places in Monterey Park, where the water-boiled fish, won tons and Chung King fried chicken all gladden my heart. But my boyfriend, although he has many otherwise sterling qualities, is practically phobic about the hot peppers at those restaurants, no matter how many times I try to assure him that the management is unlikely to slip chiles into his bland, boring crossing-the-bridge noodles or sizzling-rice shrimp. Is there any restaurant that will satisfy my Chengdu-style chile lust while serving enough mild dishes to make the boy happy?
—Melissa, Studio City
Answer: I share your pain. My chile-fearing daughter once broke into tears at the sight of a plate of fried chicken at Chung King that might as well have been a low pile of lighted firecrackers for all she was concerned. But even she is happy at Good Choice Express, a brand-new Alhambra restaurant whose menu seems almost exactly divided between spicy Sichuan and sweet Shanghai-style dishes: Sichuan live frog with fermented pepper and Shanghai eel with chestnuts; incendiary dan-dan mien and mild Shanghai rice cake; dumplings in red oil and mild soup dumplings with crab. You can almost construct parallel meals at Good Choice, where you blow your brains out with mapo tofu while he blows his arteries out with braised pork belly. Is the Shanghai food as good as it is at Mei Long Village? Is the Sichuan food as good as it is at Chung King? Not quite. But if you’re determined to split the difference between the two cuisines, it may be plenty good enough. Good Choice Express, 903 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 282-2321.
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