I always love visitors because I can take them to some of the awesome restaurants that festoon our town. And I particularly like it if the visitors are partial to Chinese food: not that Americanized goop slathered with brown sauce, but the real thing. And there’s one place to get the real thing if you like Hunanese food: the Lao Hunan Restaurant on Wentworth Avenue in Chinatown. Open only for about a year, it specializes in the hearty peasant food of Hunan (Chairman Mao’s homeland), and oy, is it good. Here is the tail end of last night’s dinner that I shared with my friend Ivan, here for the Oncology Meetings. (You think science meetings are big? This one has 35,000 attendees!) I’ve posted on this place before, but last night we tried three new dishes.
- Appetizer: Jade tofu, a great starter with chili oil and scallions
- Stir-fried green chilis with black bean sauce: one of the best Chinese dishes I ‘ve had anywhere, including China. If you’ve never appreciated the concept of a hot green chili as a vegetable, this is the place to start. It’s a marvelous melange of strong flavors, and incendiary. Eat only a bit of a time. But it’s addictive (maybe they should tax it!)
- Ground pork with sour beans. The “sour” beans are beans that are pickled in-house, and the combination is marvelous. It’s spicy but not over the top.
- “Famous Hunan stir-fried lamb” with chives and cilantro. Another addictive dish: we kept picking at it even when we were full.
The dishes, except for the chilis, are not sauce-heavy (that dish is oily), and the flavors of the ingredients really shine through. Ivan, a Chinese-food maven, agreed that it was a stupendous meal.
Here are The Remains of the Night. I have a lot of leftovers to eat in the next two days. Note in the photo how my upper lip is—like that of Richard Nixon—sweating copiously!
I’ve eaten in all the high-reputation Chinese restaurants in Chicago, I’ve been to the Cantonese and Shanghai emporia of New York and San Francisco, gagged on what passes for “Chinese food” in the UK, and dined copiously in Beijing and Chengdu (Szechuan). And without a doubt the Lao Hunan is not only the best Chinese restaurant in Chicago, but ranks among the best Chinese restaurants I’ve been to anywhere.