Yiquan Gu and his wife, Qiongyao Zhang, may not be celebrity chefs. But if you are a lover of authentic Sichuan cooking and you live in Atlanta, you’ve probably heard of their famous silken dumplings and delectable noodles.
For many fans, the reign of Gu’s Bistro on Buford Highway (2010-2015) was all too short-lived, the loss only partly assuaged by the follow-up Gu’s Dumplings at Krog Street Market. It’s fine as long as you don’t mind a food-hall situation.
Gu’s Kitchen, a fast-casual concept open since November, marks the return of the Gu’s brand to Buford Highway. Here you can sit down and snap a shot of your Instagram-worthy Chengdu cold noodles or nosh on a peppery, Sichuan-style fried-chicken po’boy topped with spicy coleslaw. (The chefs have even created a Sichuan version of potato wedges to pair with their fun, tasty riff on the classic New Orleans sandwich.)
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I missed out on the original BuHi Gu’s and have made only a cursory stop at Krog, but after a few recent visits to the latest endeavor, I can see why customers clamor. The food is fresh and hand-made, and the menu has been crafted for Western palates. (If you are looking for tongue, tripe or pig kidneys, there are other options up the street.)
On the busy early Saturday afternoon we stopped in, we found the place packed with hungry noodle heads. But the kitchen never flagged. With speed and care, it sent out dish after dish of the noodles, dumplings, entrees and specials we ordered in our frenzy to taste everything our table could hold, and then some.
You may not get full service here, but the staff is eager to accommodate. If you need time to mull over the menu, they’ll let you pick a table and circle back to the counter when you’re ready. They’ll help you figure out your proper spice level, refill your glasses, bring to-go boxes if you need them, and pack them up for you.
First-timers should consider trying at least one dumpling and one noodle dish.
Dan-dan noodles and the previously mentioned cold Chengdu noodles are both exemplary versions of the classics: comforting to slurp, not aggressively spicy. A bowl of the dan-dan should be tossed with the bok choy and gently spicy ground beef and gravy that sit at the bottom of the dish.
The Chengdu-style, bathed in a garlicky sauce and sprinkled with just enough sesame seeds to impart a nutty crunch, will calm the taste buds, should you set your mouth on fire with something incendiary. (They come draped over a little gizmo that makes it look like they are being held over the bowl by a pair of magical chopsticks, suspended in midair. Cue your camera.)
When it comes to capsicum, I’m no shrinking lotus blossom, but the spicy dried beef noodles — tossed with peanuts, chiles, ground beef, cilantro and bok choy — were a little too prickly for me to suck down with abandon. And they were only level three on the chile meter. I have yet to have the nerve to try a level-four blast.
As for the dumplings, pork and chicken are very good, but I’m particularly fond of the veggie version, stuffed with Chinese napa cabbage and black mushrooms, and the dried wonton style with pork. “Dried” just means without sauce: They’re only barely rolled in a little chile oil and soy and copiously showered with chopped peanuts, scallions and chile flakes. I can put away a good half-dozen of these babies without slowing down.
I should, though, because the Spicy Crispy Fish, batter-fried and sprinkled with just the right amount of spices and aromatics, is a real winner. The fried chicken po’boy comes on a hoagie that tastes a little doughy when you get down to it, but the gently spiced bird and the generously dressed coleslaw all come together to mask the so-so bread, making it a good if not great sammie. I suspect these Asian-style po’boys were designed with kids in mind; there’s also a tofu version.
Stir-fried green beans didn’t do a whole lot for me, perhaps because I’m addicted to the classic version, traditionally wok’ed with pork crumbles. I’ll give the kitchen points for being playful with kung pao: They do a variation of the Chinese mom-and-pop staple with lotus root. I found the sauce more sweet than interesting, and overall the dish lacked the textural snap of a good chile pepper- and peanut-garnished kung pao.
Chongqing spicy chicken is one of those dishes that relies on a ginormous amount of chiles. Alas the bites of wok-seared bird in mine were a bit on the dry side, and the $15 price tag gave me pause. On that same afternoon, my batter-fried potato wedges were a little undercooked. (It’s a fun idea, though, and the seasonings will give you a kick.)
If the Sichuan-with-a-twist items can lack finesse, the thing to keep in mind is that the Gu’s following wasn’t built on clever tricks. People love Gu’s for the real-deal, lovingly made dumplings and noodles. They have yet to disappoint.
11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. 4897 Buford Highway, Suite 104, Chamblee. 470-299-2388, guskitchen.com.
Recommended dishes: Chengdu cold noodles. Dan-dan noodles. Pork, chicken and vegetable dumplings. Dried wontons (with pork). Spicy Crispy Fish.