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Dig into fiery hot Sichuan dishes at these metro Atlanta restaurants

Shan City Beef is incredibly tender inside, but crispy on the exterior with wonderful spice and rich flavor at Tasty China Jia in Ponce City Market. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Shan City Beef is incredibly tender inside, but crispy on the exterior with wonderful spice and rich flavor at Tasty China Jia in Ponce City Market. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

If you want to learn about Sichuan (or Szechuan, or Szechwan) cuisine, go to one of the Gu's outposts. There are several now: Gu's Kitchen on Buford Highway and Gu's Dumplings in Krog Street Market and south Forsyth's Halcyon development. The back of the menu is peppered with fascinating facts about the cuisine — known for intensely spicy, pungent and garlicky dishes, as well as the signature numbing effect of Sichuan peppercorns — and the Sichuan region of China. (Sichuan means "four rivers," for example, and all three different spellings are technically correct.)

Even more interesting, though, is how Atlanta has embraced Sichuan cuisine. It shows how far the Atlanta dining scene has come that there are traditional Sichuan restaurants in Buckhead, Inman Park and Johns Creek. Buford Highway is now a celebrated culinary landmark, and successful restaurant operators from immigrant hot spots like Smyrna and Doraville have turned their attention — and investment dollars — toward new developments outside of their immediate neighborhoods. For those looking to delve into traditional Sichuan cuisine, there’s more than likely an excellent option right around the corner.

Vegetarian mapo tofu at Tasty China Jia in Ponce City Market. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Vegetarian mapo tofu at Tasty China Jia in Ponce City Market. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Tasty China Jia

With an ornate facade overlooking the bustling main drag of Ponce City Market, it’s not immediately clear that Jia is related to Tasty China, the august Sichuan restaurant that’s operated in Smyrna for nearly 15 years. The surprisingly tight space, made even tighter by perpetual crowds, is bursting with the same energy and urgency as the original space first opened by chef Peter Chang. Dishes from the nearly identical menus arrive as they’re ready, encouraging a communal dining experience. Beef lovers should not miss the Shan City Beef, unbelievably tender chunks of beef with crispy, dry-fried exteriors and a sprinkling of peppers and Sichuan peppercorns. Adventurous eaters might try the dry-fried bananas with their intense level of spice and unusual, but not unpleasant, meltingly soft texture. Tasty China Jia takes the fun, excitement and traditional flavors of the original restaurant, and plops it all down in one of Atlanta’s hottest dining spots.

675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. 470-343-2881, jiaatlanta.com.

An appetizer of tender wood ear mushrooms at Tasty China Jia in Ponce City Market. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
An appetizer of tender wood ear mushrooms at Tasty China Jia in Ponce City Market. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Masterpiece

It's only natural to segue from Tasty China to Masterpiece, the Duluth restaurant from chef Rui Liu, a former disciple of Peter Chang. Located far north on Buford Highway, Masterpiece has attracted a loyal following of masochistic devotees and plenty of critical praise since its opening, earning Liu a James Beard regional best chef nomination in 2018. The menu is long, but it's unlikely you'll make a bad choice at Masterpiece, even if you stick with the basics. Sichuan classics like dry-fried eggplant and mapo tofu here surpass your wildest expectations, serving as a case study for the flavor that can be achieved by a master chef.

3940 Buford Highway, Duluth. 770-622-1191, masterpiece-chinese.com.

Dry pot pork bung (the rectum and large intestine) at Great Sichuan in Johns Creek might be for a more adventurous eater. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Dry pot pork bung (the rectum and large intestine) at Great Sichuan in Johns Creek might be for a more adventurous eater. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Great Sichuan

Not far from the tony grounds of Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek sits Great Sichuan, an unassuming restaurant in a bland strip mall that serves traditional Sichuan food. Many Sichuan restaurants serve offal, and Great Sichuan is no different. Tripe, intestines and pork bung (the rectum and large intestine) are all on the menu and, in fact, delicious. For less adventurous palates, easy-to-love favorites like mapo tofu have deep, nuanced flavor to go with their tingling spice.

10475 Medlock Bridge Road, Johns Creek. 770-417-8862, greatsichuanga.com.

The spicy and numbing chicken hot pot at Urban Wu in a fiery orange chile oil. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
The spicy and numbing chicken hot pot at Urban Wu in a fiery orange chile oil. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Urban Wu

Earlier this year in the Disco Kroger development in the heart of Buckhead, Urban Wu set up camp and brought a Sichuan bonfire to one of Atlanta’s most traditional neighborhoods. Even simple dishes like mala spicy cucumber salad spark with flavor and spice, while more involved dishes can be downright dramatic. Try the spicy and numbing chicken hot pot, a dish of tender chicken and exotic vegetables like wood ear mushrooms and lotus root all stir-fried in a fiery orange chile oil. The hot pot is served in a wok over a burning flame, so it continues to sizzle and pop on the table. That bit of theater should encourage more people to dine in rather than order takeout.

3330 Piedmont Road NE, Atlanta. 404-816-8008, urbanwuga.com.

Mala cucumber salad is simple and refreshing at Urban Wu in Buckhead. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Mala cucumber salad is simple and refreshing at Urban Wu in Buckhead. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Gu’s Dumplings and Gu’s Kitchen 

Chef Yiquan Gu and his wife, Qiongyao Zhang, have set down the foundation of their own little Sichuan empire in Atlanta. Though the original Gu's Bistro closed several years ago, leaving only Gu's Dumplings at Krog Street Market, the couple is back on Buford Highway with Gu's Kitchen, which takes a fast-casual approach to Sichuan dining. Don't be fooled by the short menu above the ordering counter; many longtime Gu's Bistro favorites can be found on the lengthy specials board beside the register. And they've continued to expand, with another Gu's Dumplings now open in the mixed-use Halcyon development in south Forsyth County (which has an Alpharetta postal address, despite not being located within the Alpharetta city limits or even in the same county). Spice lovers should try the Sichuan spicy fried rice at Gu's Kitchen, or the sauteed chicken with chile peppers at Gu's Dumplings.

Gu’s Dumplings. 99 Krog St. NE, Atlanta, 404-527-6007, and 6330 Halcyon Way, Alpharetta, 678-691-4844, gusdumplings.com.

Gu’s Kitchen. 4897 Buford Highway, Chamblee. 470-299-2388, guskitchen.com.

Fire Stone Chinese Cuisine

Like so many other Sichuan chefs in town, Wen-Qiang Huang is another branch of the Peter Chang culinary tree. His menu at Fire Stone in Kennesaw's Town Center delivers the addictive, tingling punch of Sichuan spice with a bit of whimsy. Chef Huang shows off his technique by creatively plating his dishes: Jingfen crispy pork ribs sit on a circular slab of tree trunk buried in breadcrumbs, while serving tongs hang playfully above a plateful of shredded tofu skin. These small touches delineate chef Huang from Chang, but the depth of flavor continues a lineage that stretches to several other Atlanta-area Sichuan restaurants.

840 Ernest W. Barrett Parkway NW, Kennesaw. 678-324-0512, firestonekennesaw.com.

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