There's a new player on the Sichuan scene in the San Gabriel Valley. When Spicy City opened Nov. 8 in San Gabriel, it gave lovers of chili pepper and peppercorn-laden fare a new option, but for the Li family it marked a return to the SGV.

Originally from Chongqing in Sichuan Province, Guochao Li was chief manager and partner at Monterey Park's Yunnan Garden, a restaurant known for going through a dizzying series of name changes (currently it's Yunkun Garden). While serving as manager, Mr. Li added a cold table of traditional appetizers. Quickly gaining popularity, the cold table has gone on to become a common feature among Sichuan — and even some non-Sichuan — places in the area.

Joe Li, manager, Spicy City, San Gabriel; Credit: Jim Thurman

Joe Li, manager, Spicy City, San Gabriel; Credit: Jim Thurman

Leaving Yunnan Garden, Li moved on to San Diego, where he opened Spicy City in 2007. Three years later, a second location was opened in Irvine. Which brings us back to the new restaurant. Located upstairs in San Gabriel Square, the restaurant is owned by Min Li and managed by son Joe Li, with a chef trained by Guochao Li.

Upon opening, the restaurant used the same printed menu as the other locations, but only as a starting point. Joe told us there are items exclusive to the San Gabriel location, with more coming soon. He pointed to the large photo on the wall of the roasted whole fish, a recipe his father developed, as an example. The bulk of items use traditional recipes from Chongqing. About that. Unsatisfied with local sources, ingredients are shipped in directly from China.

All the familiar Sichuan favorites are there: the water boiled dishes, Chongqing style cubed fried chicken and dan dan mian. Noodle dishes use fresh handmade noodles that deliver a good “Q”, the all important toothsomeness. Joe cites the lamb chop with hot pepper and lamb with cumin as other popular dishes on the 175 item menu. With such an expansive menu, dishes can get overlooked. Joe suggests the Twice Cooked Pork (huí​ guō​ ròu) and Chongqing Fish Hot Pot, noting they become favorites of those who try them.

The SGV Chinese restaurant scene surely must be one of the most competitive in the country, but the Li family is ready. Joe expressed confidence that their dishes, preparations and flavors direct from Chongqing will firmly establish Spicy City in the area, which is something any fan of spicy food will gladly welcome.

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LA Weekly