There’s a relatively new restaurant in Chinatown that creates authentic Szechuan dishes that literally brings the spicy, numbing cuisine of that Chinese region to Chicago. It’s called Ma Gong La Po, a name that is spot on. And this is why.
They are known amongst the Chicago-dwelling Asians for their Szechuan fish soup, which consists of a whole Asian carp (forget about the carp stereotypes; these carp as clean and fresh!). The fish itself is fried lightly and then stewed in a Szechuan concoction of garlic, shallots, red chili peppers and of course, Szechuan peppers (described by the third word in the name, “la”, meaning spicy). When the platter was brought to our table, the soup was still forming red bubbles that released a puff of spice to my nose as they popped. Digging in, the fish was beautifully tender with perfectly patterned meat that glistened amongst the colorful soup. Although my tongue and lips started to numb a bit from the Szechuan peppers (which the first word in the name, “Ma”, describes), I could still fully taste the powerful flavors in the soup and the refreshing meat on the very inside of the fish. Absolutely phenomenal!
Aside from that stew, this restaurant also serves staple Szechuan dishes such as gong bao ji ding (kung pao chicken) and zi ran yang rou (cumin lamb). The chef produced a perfect and slight sweetness in these dishes that complemented the anticipated heat.
In case you don’t want an entire dish of lamb, Ma Gong La Po makes grilled lamb sticks, and the best part is that they grill them over a wood fire, giving them that true, rustic flavor.
To calm the taste buds a bit, there is also a beautifully soy-marinated tofu with a bit of ground beef and shallots. Be aware that the temperature of this dish is very hot so it also targets the pain receptors!
- To avoid Tony Hu’s empire of tourist-packed restaurants, Ma Gong La Po is the new, up and coming go-to place for authentic Szechuan cuisine in Chicago.
- Be aware that it really is SPICY! And don’t be worried if you get a numbing feel in your mouth – it’s supposed to happen.
- Ma Gong La Po is right under Triple Crown in the older part of Chinatown, right by the arch.
- “Gong” and “Po” are words that describes Chef Chen and his wife, both who work at the restaurant.
It is really wonderful to see such an authentic Szechuan restaurant in Chinatown!!!