Szechuan House feels like a Chinese restaurant from a different time

Although Szechuan House opened in Lutherville in 1993, it feels straight out of a Los Angeles-based stoner realist Robert Altman movie from the mid-'70s. A faux-classy aesthetic featuring fish tanks and fake gold dominate the interior—you can totally imagine sloppily handsome character actors like Elliott Gould and George Segal, hopped up on goofballs blabbing about some scheme over shrimp and mixed chow fen ($9.95), in this place. Indeed, the biggest prognosticators of Szechuan House in our circle of acquaintances is a retired college professor who is a hero of the crotchety and a tough-guy local supermarket chain owner—characters in and of themselves, as out of time as Szechuan House.

Szechuan House is way better than it needs to be. It is a conventional Chinese restaurant of the sherbet and a fortune cookie at the end of the meal sort, but everything about it is more interesting than your usual Chinese food spot, and yet slightly off. It is BYOB and it is open later than necessary, until 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and the bathrooms have those high-tech toilets—the ones with lots of buttons that seem like if you hit the right combination of buttons on them, they might shoot you into space or something. And then there is the hot tea you get when you sit down. It tastes like cigarettes. Exactly like cigarettes. Like, you know how when you were in high school and somebody's parents went out of town and there would be a party and a red Solo cup full of water in the yard where everybody would put their cigarettes out so the butts wouldn't leave evidence of a party? Imagine if you heated that water up and then served it and it was delicious, somehow.

The food is very good too and does not taste like cigs. Go with old standard, the General Tso's chicken ($6.25 for a small size, $9.50 for a large size; you can even request all-white meat), even if you're not into that dish because the sauce in Szechuan House's version isn't that sweet thick tar you get at most carry-outs, but a lighter, thinner sauce or paste with a tangy burnt aftertaste. But what's most interesting about Szechuan House's menu is its Country Side Taste section featuring more legit dishes such as beef tendon with Yuba ($11.95) and other unexpected entrees. Check out the Peking duck broth soup ($6.95), part of a duck chilling out in a vaguely cinnamon-y broth with brittle tofu, and its bitter melon pork ($8.95), which is bonkers—what we imagine Muppet probably tastes like if Muppet were a meat to sell. Absolutely foreign to our taste buds but inexplicably familiar. It's only a matter of time before the bone-marrow trend or whatever dies out and Remington spots sell us something like this and purport it to be a new thing, right?

Speaking of which, if Szechuan House opened up a store in the city that sold the Country Side Taste part of its menu, it could totally charge twice as much to a whole bunch of foodie ding-dongs and you'd be reading a proper review of it instead of this glib sidebar. Get out to the county and check out Szechuan House. Drink its nicotine tea. Shit in its space toilet. Enjoy delicious cheap Chinese that is unmatched.

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