The wood paneling and the multitude of panda murals that adorn the walls of Chengdu Famous Food tell you everything you need to know about the place as soon as you walk through the door—this is not your average Chinese takeout restaurant. About a 10–minute walk from Penn’s main campus, Chengdu Famous Food offers Chinese cuisine in an upscale setting. With warm yellow light emanating from metal lamps on the ceiling and an open kitchen layout that allows diners to see the goings–on in the kitchen, the atmosphere inside the restaurant is cozy and inviting. Though we came in around 1 p.m. for lunch—typically rush hour—we were seated immediately at a comfortable wooden table by the window.
As soon as it was time for us to order, I was shocked by just how high–tech their system for taking orders was in comparison with the homey atmosphere created by their decor. Diners scan a QR code at each table to order food at any time, and as soon as we scanned the menu, we were overwhelmed by the veritable cornucopia of options laid out before us. By the time I had scrolled halfway through the menu, I had already forgotten everything at the top. After quite a bit of deliberation, we ended up ordering the pork wontons, vegetable spring rolls, scallion pancakes, sesame chicken, and General Tso's tofu.
The appetizer course came out first: The scallion pancakes, pork wontons, and spring rolls. The scallion pancakes were light, flaky, and airy, with a perfect texture. However, we found that the taste was more dough than scallion. The pork wontons struck a better balance between the flavor of the filling and the shell, but it again felt as though the taste of the dough slightly overpowered that of the pork itself. The same could be said for the spring rolls, although we noticed that if you focused on it, the vegetables inside had a vibrant flavor. The texture of each dish was artful and nearly perfect, but it was difficult to discern the actual taste of each dish at times. Most of our complaints with this course, however, were ameliorated simply by adding soy sauce. All of these dishes paired well with the condiment, and we found that it brought out the flavor of each item on offer.
The main course is where Chengdu Famous Food shined. The sesame chicken was perfectly chewy and had an amazing texture, overcoming the toughness that poorly cooked chicken often struggles with. The chewiness of the meat combined with the crispiness of the fried skin made for a perfect combination. The tofu had a similar contrast, with a crispy outside that you have to work through to hit a soft and moist inside. We certainly had no complaints in the flavor department—both the tangy sweetness of the sesame chicken and the kick of the sauce worked wonders. All in all, both the vegetarian and meat options were perfectly textured and deeply flavorful.
My experience at Chengdu Famous Food was certainly a positive one with great service and food. The atmosphere and the accessibility of the restaurant from campus are absolutely plus factors as well. While the appetizers left a bit to be desired, the tofu and chicken main courses and their flavor certainly made up for this. Overall, I’d love to visit Chengdu Famous Food again, if only to try one of the other dishes of the hundreds on their menu.
TL;DR: Chengdu Famous Food offers a wide variety of flavorful dishes (with vegetarian options!) for a reasonable price.
Location: 3635 Lancaster Ave.
Hours: Lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., Dinner from 4:30 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. every day