Wayne, NJ 07470
- Cost: $$
- Credit Cards: All Major
- Alcohol: BYO
- Parking: Public Lot
- Take Out: Yes
October 20, 2012
Nestled in the corner of a strip mall, Cheng Du 23 looks to be a typical Chinese-American spot serving the standard menu of Cantonese dishes (chow mein, won ton soup, etc.). Inside is a different story.
Nathaniel Rich wrote recently of pursuing the 23 distinct flavors of Sichuan cuisine from New York to Los Angeles. He didn’t mention any New Jersey restaurants, but the “Sichuan trail” has a Garden State branch – Route 23 from Cedar Grove to Wayne, NJ. One of my favorite Chinese restaurants is Cedar Grove’s Chengdu 1, serving fiery Sichuan classics like Dan Dan Noodles, Ma Po Tofu, and Ants Climbing a Tree, swimming in red chili oil infused with Sichuan peppercorns. Continue North on Pompton Avenue (Route 23) to the edge of the Willowbrook Mall to find Cheng Du 23, another Jersey restaurant specializing in Sichuan cuisine. (Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province in in Southwestern China).
Cheng Du 23’s extensive menu includes some familiar Cantonese dishes but features Sichuan cuisine like Tea Smoked Duck (zhang cha ya) and zi ran xizng la yang, a lip-smacking plate of cumin dusted sliced lamb sauteed with with dried chili. Steamed Juice Bun (soup dumplings) are large and chewy, with a burst of hot broth inside (though not as spicy as the Spicy Meat Bun at Chengdu 1). Sichuan Pork Dumplings arrive coated in a roasted chili sauce. Ants Climbing a Tree (ma yi shang shu) are nicely flavored, but the cellophane noodles were a bit soggy. Jumbo shrimp with lobster sauce is a flavorful, non-spicy, option. On the night we visited, about sixty percent of the customers were Asian. One table was sharing an impressive whole fried fish on a platter.
Cheng Du 23’s mirrored dining room is much larger than you might expect looking at the entrance from the outside; it fills up quickly for dinner. Service is enthusiastic and friendly, with plenty of suggestions for those new to Sichuan food.
Which Jersey Chengdu is better? Cheng Du 23 is definitely worth a visit, but I give the nod to Chengdu 1, where the flavors are more distinct (and powerful), and the dishes have more character. Whichever you choose, it’s good to know the Sichuan trail runs through Jersey.