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Food & Drink

Royal Sichuan Makes Things All the Hotter This Summer

Photo: Jonathan Rienstra

Photo: Jonathan Rienstra

If you haven’t noticed, Dallas is in the middle of melting, an annual occurrence the frequency of which rarely makes it any better to be a participant in. Birds have gone into hiding, asphalt’s begun to return back to a viscous state and a set of fingerprints are being burned off by a steering wheel at an average of every 78 seconds. 

We’ve done this to ourselves: By living here, by not recycling enough, by thinking that more concrete was the answer. Maybe, I thought, it would be cooler in Richardson. After all, it’s so far north that the whole town was undoubtedly saddened by Kawhi Leonard’s departure. Or maybe that’s just my Dallas snobbery. 

I can say that things are decidedly hotter in Richardson, particularly at Royal Sichuan. I’ve gone on record as being a fan of the Sichuan pepper. It does magical, numby things that push spice all over your tastebuds, acting almost like a regulator, inviting you back for more masochism. But Sichuan cuisine doesn’t limit itself just to its eponymous pepper — it likes the other ones too, the redder and hotter the better.

A perfect example of this is the Deep Fried Chicken with Roasted Chili (or C18 on the menu). Delivered on a platter that takes up half of the table, a mound of, well, deep-fried chicken with roasted chili rest.

There’s a deceptive straightforwardness to this dish: Outside of a few scallions and pieces of ginger here and there, you are about to eat chicken and chilies. And you will eat. You (if you are me) will pluck and peck at this mountain with your chopsticks, creating a frictionless loop from pile to mouth repeated quickly, breathlessly. 

Each bite of chicken offers up the finest version of spicy popcorn chicken, and despite an outward appearance of dryness, inside is a moisture bomb that masks the deep heat for just a second. But these zesty bites are the cool part of the dish, because every third or fourth peck is dedicated to the roasted chili peppers. 

They sit in the dish, sweating and waiting to be picked up. It’s a game of Sichuan roulette — all of the chilis are hot, but some chilis are hotter than others and when those land, they plant a flag on your tongue, make camp and stick around through everything thrown at them.

Sesame chicken, ounces of water, slurps of lo mein, they do nothing to extinguish the fire. It’s the sort of situation that requires you to go deeper into the deep-fried chicken and pray that your palate recalibrates its overall concept of ‘spicy.’

The thing is, you (again, if you are me) won’t mind this. The heat is a flavor here, pushing this salty, crunchy dish to another level. The Deep Fried Chicken with Roasted Chili is imbued with spice that accepts no substitutions, except for maybe more of everything.