We started to get excited after reading various food blogs about a renowned yet mysterious Szechuan chef who had attracted a devoted cult of followers in DC before disappearing. After sightings in Atlanta and Knoxville, there was a rumor that THE Peter Chang was behind the new nondescript Taste of China restaurant in Albemarle Square.
I tried to keep my expectations in check, but they shot up when we arrived to see the restaurant name in neon Chinese, as well as English, outside the strip mall exterior. And up even further when we walked in to an absolutely packed place featuring very little English, with a menu that relegated its “American Chinese” dishes to the back page.
We started with pork dumplings, which were good but not spectacular due to their pairing with an overly oily sauce, and scallion bubble pancakes. The pancakes had a perfect texture and fun inflated appearance, although we both thought the scallion flavor could have been stronger. The Peking Duck was up next. The measure of a great Peking Duck is the crispiness of the skin: not too crispy to be crunchy and unpleasing to the teeth, but crispy enough to avoid sogginess. This is difficult to achieve and Taste of China did it perfectly. Wrapped in pancake with sauce and scallions, it was a little bite of duck heaven.
We saved the best for last, however, with the Chicken, Scallion and Chili in Hot Pot. The hot pot came out sizzling and full of fresh, quality ingredients. The dish was mouth numbingly spicy in that delicious Szechuan way, so not for the faint of spicy heart, but it also maintained a perfect balance of flavor. Incredible. By the time we received the Chinese-written, oil-smudged check, we were high fiving that good Chinese food was at last in Charlottesville.
Jed says: “Finally, a Chinese restaurant worth getting excited about. The chicken hot pot is the best thing on this side of the Great Wall.”
Rating: Erin: Jed:
Pros: Delicious, spicy, authentic food.
Cons: Overly florescent lighting with pictures of neon mountain landscapes highlights the fact that you’re there for the food, not the ambience.
Price: Apps $1.50-$5.50, dishes $5.50-$14.50.
Parking: Albemarle Square parking lot.