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Get Your Spicy Chinese Food Fix at Chengdu Taste

The popular Sichuan eatery reopens with more room to serve its fiery flavors.


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Clockwise from the top left: eggplant with spicy garlic sauce, stir-fried kidneys, sauteed potato, boiled fish in hot sauce, griddle-cooked beef, flavored chicken with chili sauce.
Photos: Martha Cheng and Grace Zheng

 

Chengdu Taste has reopened on the second floor of 808 Center, and it’s bigger and more unapologetically Chinese than ever. Take the hot pink menu printed in Chinese only, with new dishes like stir-fried kidneys ($14.99), sliced thin and scored like squid at a sushi bar. But there’s nothing delicate and jewel-like about this preparation—rather, the beige meat is tossed with whole dried chilies and ruffles of wood ear fungus, muddy brown with a crunch similar to cartilage.

 

Welcome back, Chengdu Taste. We missed you.

 

Dishes on the original menu (aka the one with English), are more accessible, while still embodying the fiery spiced flavors that the Sichuan province has come to be known for, especially in the United States in recent years. There’s the mung bean jelly noodle with chili sauce ($7.99) and flavored chicken with chili sauce ($12.99)—you’re going to see “chili sauce” a lot on the menu—the noodles cool and slippery, the chicken velvety, soft counterparts to the prickly and tangy sauce they’re doused in. For Grace, these taste of childhood meals with her mom’s side of the family.

 

Mung bean jelly noodle WITH CHILI SAUCE.

 

It’s likely you will never see so much chili oil in your life as in the boiled fish in hot sauce ($17.99), in which fillets of fish are submerged in cups of scarlet oil. The menu descriptions are almost comically sparse—again, there’s the impression that Chengdu Taste is not kowtowing to the palates of anyone but the Chinese who already know what they’re getting into. Griddle cooked beef ($19.99) gives no hint to the lashings of cumin and citrusy and numbing Sichuan peppercorn in the dish, nor the sauteed eggplant with spicy garlic sauce ($11.99) that proves bland eggplant is just a failure of the imagination.

 

Eggplant with spicy garlic sauce

This popular Los Angeles-based mini-chain counts Honolulu as its fifth location and one that was by chance, according to the current manager (who declined to give his name). He came to Hawai‘i for a vacation in late 2015 and lamented his unintentional weight loss due to the lack of good Chinese food. He joked with his boss, Sichuan native Tony Xu, about opening Chengdu Taste in Honolulu to fill that void. Around the same time, Xu was approached about a restaurant space at 808 Center. In 2016, within months of the manager’s visit, Chengdu Taste opened.

 

In 2018, though, Chengdu Taste, having outgrown its space, closed to prepare for its move upstairs, while the noodle-focused Mian served as a placeholder. Like a twin that you never see at the same time, Mian closed right before Chengdu Taste re-opened. But we're told Mian in Honolulu isn't gone forever—just until management smooths out operations in the bigger digs.

 

Open every day except Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., 808 Sheridan St. #209, (808) 589-1818.

 

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