This is probably the first detailed restaurant guide for Langzhong in English -- I couldn't find any prior to our trip, so I decided to write one upon our return.
Below are 7 recommendations that we took from the locals. One Pork Knuckle specialist. One Rice Noodles specialist. One maker of nothing but Lamb Tripes. One specialist for Deep-Fried Pot-Stickers. Two breakfast joints for Steamed Baozi. And finally, a time-honored institution for formal Sichuanese Cuisine.
Please refer to the above map for the locations of the 7 restaurants reviewed.
1. XIE ZHAJIANG
Ask any Langzhong resident about his favorite dish and he'll likely point you to this little restaurant. The delicacy is called Qixing Zhushou, or Seven Stars Pork Knuckle.
Two Pork Knuckle specialists, Xie Zajiang and Jiang Zajiang, battle head-to-head across from the local high school, each attracting its own legion of faithfuls. Note that the word Zajiang has nothing to do with Pork Knuckles, but refers to a meat sauce in their signature noodles. In any case, we sat down at Xie Zajiang among a shopful of afterschool students.
The signature Zajiang Noodles came with a meat sauce as fiery as one would expect of Northern Sichuan. Good al dente texture; even better sauce as long as you can take the heat!
My wife's order came piping hot in a surprisingly spicy soupstock ... we thought we ordered Noodles in Clear Broth! And then I remembered ... we're in Sichuan.
Our Pork Knuckles arrived. And it was the most tender, most gelatinous Pork Knuckle I've ever had of any nationality. I can only describe it as a mouthful of collagen, gently slow-braised for a day until all its tendons and joints disintegrate into a melt-in-your-mouth texture.
It wasn't until we finished the whole thing that I realized ... these were essentially Pork HOCKS, not Pork KNUCKLES as in German Eisbein or in Czech cuisine. There wasn't much meat in it, but my wife was happy with her dose of collagen, and not just from cosmetics.
- XIE ZHAJIANG
- Open approx 16:00 till midnight
- Take a taxi to the Dongfeng (East Wind) High School just northeast of the Ancient City. This shop is directly across from the school. You can simply follow the trail of students if you get there in the late afternoon like we did.
Bill for Two Persons
|Seven Stars Pork Knuckles x 2||RMB 24|
|Zajiang Noodles||RMB 6|
|Beef Noodles in Clear Broth||RMB 6|
|TOTAL before tips||RMB 36 (CAD$6.3)|
2. GONGJI YANGZA
In the midst of Langzhong's historic quarters exists this tiny but highly popular family-run eatery. It's the prototypical Chinese recipe of success -- focus on ONE THING, and do it better than anyone else. In the case of the Gong family, this one thing is an age-old Chinese Muslim recipe for Yangza, or Lamb Tripes. Don't even think about ordering anything else.
If the words "Lamb" and "Tripes" both sound unbearably gamey to you, don't worry. These tripes were the freshest and the lightest in flavor that I've ever tasted, beef or lamb. In fact my tastebuds couldn't even tell what they were ... they almost tasted like simmered Calamari! And coupled with freshly hand-rolled noodles all for RMB 7 (CAD$1.2), it's no wonder that officers from the neighboring police detachment all come here for breakfast.
- GONGJI YANGZA
- Open approx 07:00 till 10:00 or until sold out
- Walk east from the Examination Hall (Gongyuan) museum and turn right at the police station. Gongji is directly across from the police. Get here early as they're only open for breakfast and brunch, and will pack up once all the Lamb Tripes are sold out.
Bill for One Person
|Lamb Tripes with Noodles||RMB 7|
|TOTAL before tips||RMB 7 (CAD$1.2)|
3. GONGYUAN FENGUAN
Another informal eatery specializing in yet another Sichuanese favorite, Gongyuan Fenguan is widely recognized by locals for Langzhong's best Mifen, or Rice Noodles. I didn't take a photo of the shop, but all taxi drivers know this place.
Everyone comes here for the same thing -- mouthwatering Rice Noodles in an assortment of flavors and toppings, all cheaply priced at around RMB 7 (CAD$1.2) for a medium bowl. It's easy to understand why it's such a lunch staple of blue collar workers.
My wife ordered the Red Braised Beef (Hongshao Niurou) in non-spicy (never trust the Sichuanese on this) while I ordered the Pork Intestines (Feichang) in mild. The soupstock turned out flavorful and not overly spiced, the toppings were great (the Pork Intestines were well-cleaned and not too fatty) and the Rice Noodle were of the thick and non-soggy type. I don't think we could ask for a better lunch at the rock bottom price of RMB 14 (CAD$2.5) for two.
- GONGYUAN FENGUAN - Open approx 07:00 for breakfast. Closing time is unknown but they served us lunch at 12:30.
- Just show the words 公园粉馆 (GONG YUAN FEN GUAN) to a taxi driver. Alternatively, walk east from the Ancient City and find the street "Gongyuan Lu." The shop is a couple blocks down from the start of the street, on the left hand side. Note that they're only open for breakfast and lunch.
Bill for Two Persons
|Rice Noodles with Red Braised Beef (Medium)||RMB 7|
|Rice Noodles with Pork Intestines (Medium)||RMB 7|
|TOTAL before tips||RMB 14 (CAD$2.5)|
4. MINGTE CANYIN MINGDIAN
This little shop produces the best Pot-Stickers in town according to a local. His instructions to me were short: go to Beidajie street and look for the words "Guotiejiao" (Pot-Sticker Dumplings). It would have been easier had he simply told me to locate the greasy wok with my nose ...
This mom-and-pop shop chooses to focus on one and only one item -- freshly hand-wrapped Pot-Stickers, slowly and lovingly fried on a shallow wok. When one batch sells out, they deep fry a new batch with the same wok and the clientele just stand on the side and patiently wait.
Look at how the wrapping comes out uniformly golden color all around, crispy to the bite but never overly charred. No wonder the place is a favorite of grandparents dropping off the kids at the kindergarten down the block. Such great local flavors at incredibly cheap prices (10 dumplings for RMB 5) ... I would never have found this place on my own.
- MINGTE CANYIN MINGDIAN
- Open approx 07:00 until Pot-Stickers are sold out.
- I will elaborate on the instructions given to me by the local ... walk south from the Zhongtianlou watchtower for about half a block and locate the pictured shop on the right hand side. Let your nose guide you.
Bill for One Person
|Deep-Fried Pot-Stickers (10 pieces)||RMB 5|
|TOTAL before tips||RMB 5 (CAD$0.9)|
5. LIUSHI NIUROU BAOZI and 6. SOME NAMELESS BAOZI SHOP
We found two recommendable shops for the ever-present steamed Baozi buns. The first one was recommended by a local, and the second one was evidently extremely popular with afterschool students.
Located at the heart of Langzhong's Muslim Quarter just east of the Ancient City, Liushi Baozi is well-known as the best Baozi shop in Langzhong. You won't find the common Pork Baozi in this Islamic neighborhood -- instead you'll get the Beef or Lamb varieties, for the standard price of RMB 1 (CAD$0.18) each.
The next day I decided to try a different Baozi shop closer to our guesthouse, located directly across from the kindergarten, half a block from the above Pot-Sticker shop. At 16:00 in the afternoon the place was absolutely swarmed with neighborhood moms, each lining up to pick up a couple of buns for afterschool snack for her kid. You won't find a more obvious sign of a cheap and good local bite.
In true Sichuanese fashion the shop spices their Baozi up with a dollop of chili and pickled cabbages in their pork filling. You can't go wrong with the queue of locals, especially when everything on menu is just RMB 1 (CAD$0.18). What else could you buy with RMB 1 these days, besides a sweaty ride on a non-air-conditioned bus?
- LIUSHI NIUROU BAOZI
- Open for breakfast approx 07:00. Closing time unknown.
- Head to the Muslim Quarter and find the covered vegetable market. Liushi Baozi is just next door from the market.
- NAMELESS BAOZI SHOP
- Open for breakfast approx 07:00 until late afternoon.
- This place is conveniently located inside the Ancient City, directly across from the kindergarten on the street just north of the Zhongtianlou watchtower.
Bill for Two Persons
|Steamed Baozi (10 pieces from Liushi Baozi)||RMB 10|
|Steamed Baozi (2 pieces from Nameless Shop)||RMB 2|
|TOTAL before tips||RMB 12 (CAD$2.1)|
7. DARONGHE (Langzhong Branch)
Daronghe is widely regarded as one of the foremost restaurant chains for Sichuanese Cuisine in Sichuan, serving an upper-middle class clientele with predictably good food at reasonable prices. It's better known in Chengdu's highly competitive dining scene, and this branch in Langzhong was almost brand new when we visited.
Service was impeccable compared to almost anywhere else we've visited in China. Upon arrival we were offered a private room with our own private waitress, completely free of extra charge. Our friendly server, a local mom in her 40's, was tremendously helpful in navigating the menu and finding representative local flavors at a level of non-spiciness that even non-Sichuanese clients like us could enjoy.
We started with an uncomplicated appetizer of Yak Meat, simmered, thinly sliced and unflavored awaiting the our choice of fresh condiments. I enjoyed this tough but flavorful meat with chili powder and garlic while my wife preferred hers clean. The portion was larger than it looked and we never finished all of it.
My wife loves duck dishes whenever we visit China, and here we had the local Sichuanese variant of the Chaxiangya, or Duck Infused with Tea Fragrance. The infusion wasn't quite as fragrant as we hoped for, though the meat was juicy and well-presented and the seaweed on the side was great.
Auntie Chen, as we came to know our server better by this point, recommended this outstanding dish of Deep-Fried Freshwater Shrimps. It was like popping rice crispies but with the subtle sweetness of these tiny crustaceans and fresh chives.
And it got even better after that. Auntie Chen's next recommendation was somewhat of a contemporary fusion, a marriage between the classic Sichuanese fish-fragrant (Yuxiang) flavor and the classic Cantonese dish of Salt-Cured Fish and Diced Chicken, served in a sizzling claypot. This was a truly excellent dish -- the depth of flavors in the salt-cured fish was better than most Cantonese versions I've tasted. Even Auntie Chen was surprised at my high praise for their chef's creation.
The best dish of the night however was the dessert, the Sichuanese peasant favorite of Guokui Bread with Red Sugar. I'm not exaggerating ... these five little buns at RMB 18 (CAD$3.2) were easily one of our favorite memories of Sichuanese cuisine.
Just look at the half-melted red sugar oozing out of the crumbly bread roll ... it was as heavenly as a Sichuanese Guokui could get. After this meal we tried several Guokui in other restaurants in Sichuan, but nothing compared to this pillowy sweetness I remember from Langzhong.
With a couple beers the whole meal cost around RMB 250 (CAD$44), not cheap in local terms but still a bargain relative to comparable restaurants in Shanghai or Beijing. On our way out Auntie Chen even flagged down a taxi for us and instructed the driver exactly where to drop us off at the Ancient City. It was a heart-warming memory to take away on our last night in Langzhong.
- Open for lunch approx 11:30 to 14:30 and for dinner approx 17:30 till 21:30.
- Daronghe is located in a new entertainment district known as Binjiang Xintiandi, located on the riverbank to east of the Ancient City. Take a taxi, as it's too far to walk.
Bill for Two Persons
|Yak Meat Appetizer||RMB 48|
|Duck Infused with Tea Fragrance||RMB 48|
|Deep-Fried Freshwater Shrimps||RMB 68|
|Salt-Cured Fish, Diced Chicken and Eggplants in Claypot||RMB 48|
|Guokui Bread with Red Sugar||RMB 18|
|Yanjing Draft Beer x 2||RMB 20|
|TOTAL before tips||RMB 250 (CAD$44)|