My father came to visit San Diego recently, and while I would usually never take visitors coming from Asia to eat Chinese food, my dad can’t live without it. So S and I decided to revisit one of our favorites, Spicy City. We haven’t gone in a while because we’ve been trying to eat less spicy food (he’s doing pretty well, I lose resolve every time I get near hot sauce), and Spicy City is a bit heavy for our taste. But my dad loves spicy food, so I thought he would probably enjoy it.
S raves about the Dan Dan Noodles, so we decided to order one for the table. I must admit that this is the only version of Dan Dan Noodles I’ve ever had, so I can’t attest to its authenticity.
I can, however, say that this was an absolutely delicious bowl of noodles. The sauce is a mix of chili oil, soy sauce, and a generous amount of sesame paste, which made it super fragrant. The toppings are simply chopped peanuts and green onions. Make sure you mix together the sauce and toppings with the noodles before eating – you’ll want each noodle covered with the sauce.
We noticed this on the specials posted on the walls. S and I love this dish, so we decided to try it out. The preparation of this dish involves steaming the thick-cut pork belly slices and placing the Chinese mustard on top of the meat, so that the meat will absorb the pickle flavor. When the dish is ready to be served, you turn the bowl upside-down so that the pork covers the mustard – hence, the Chinese name of the dish is actually called “pickled Chinese mustard-covered pork belly.”
Anyway, we thought Spicy City’s version wasn’t that great. I don’t think they used the right kind of pickled Chinese mustard greens – the traditional dish uses a very specific version (I actually couldn’t even find the translation from Wikipedia – the English article just says “meigan cai”). Also, the dish was way too salty. The pickled mustard is supposed to be very salty already, so when preparing the meat and sauce they should really go easy on the salt and soy sauce, which I guess didn’t happen. The third (and possibly most grave?) offense is that they added a lot of chilis. This dish is not supposed to be spicy at all. My dad, who is pretty well-versed in different regions of Chinese cuisine, said that they were trying to turn a Shanghainese dish into a Szechuan dish – never a good idea.
This is a really classic Szechuan dish, and I think Spicy City does a pretty good job. We usually order some version of this dish every time, whether it’s beef or fish fillet. I prefer the fish – it’s very tender and soaks up the chili oil. According to S and our other friends, this is pretty spicy, so be warned (my dad and I are both from Hunan, and don’t really think that it’s spicy at all).
The tofu is another one of our favorites. The braised tofu is super soft tender on the inside, and has absorbed a lot of the soy sauce flavor. I love all the veggie accompaniments in the dish, especially the leeks.
Finally, we always order a simple veggie dish. S says that their eggplant dishes are good, but my dad doesn’t like eggplant, and those dishes tend to be too greasy. So we went with a simple stir-fried baby bok choy.
Anyway, aside from the disappointing braised pork belly, I thought the other dishes were all very well done. Spicy City is probably one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in San Diego, as there is usually a line (can be over an hour for weekend dinners). We don’t come here often because it’s a pretty heavy and greasy meal, but when I crave spicy Chinese food, that bowl of dan dan noodles always comes to mind.
4690 Convoy St., Suite 107, San Diego, CA
Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-9:30pm; Fri-Sun 11am-10pm