1. Sze Chuan
$7-$19, 11102 W. NATIONAL AVE., WEST ALLIS, 414-885-0856
The cuisine of Sichuan is known for its heat, a wave of intensity that leaves the tongue buzzing. This restaurant, whose chef-owners are originally from the southwest China province, excels at those classic dishes like mapo tofu (with Sichuan peppercorns, chile oil and fermented black beans), pork dumplings bathing in chile oil, and fish in chile pepper soup. I also love the milder offerings, such as twice-cooked pork and cumin lamb. Hot pot – where diners cook various ingredients in a cauldron of flavored stock brought to the table – is also a must.
$12-$33, 2945 S. 108TH ST., WEST ALLIS, 414-328-9890
You can get many classic Chinese-American dishes at this 27-year-old spot – sweet and sour chicken, egg foo young, etc. But for authentic flavors, check out Fortune’s Chinese menu, which is filled with more adventurous offerings like shredded duck soup with golden mushrooms, spicy salt and pepper fish, and braised eggplant with plum sauce in casserole.
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3. Asian Fusion
$8-$27, 1609 E. NORTH AVE., 414-273-6688
Consistency is the benchmark of this place in a small East Side strip mall. And they have a huge menu. I try to approach it with fresh eyes each time but still find myself going back to the dishes I’ve enjoyed in the past, and they fall under the heading of “AF Traditionals.” They include delicate, crispy salt and pepper fish, Sichuan string beans with minced pork, and tender eggplant in a clay pot. This place also serves these incredible breaded and fried “golden garlic” baby-back short ribs. Rib fans need to try them.
$12-$18, 207 E. BUFFALO ST., 414-271-7788
This longtime Third Ward Northern Chinese resto has undeniable appeal if you’re looking for straightforward Chinese-American food, to the tune of General Tso’s chicken and moo shu pork. Owner Jing Wang also features some specialties from her hometown of Shanghai, one of which is the succulent Shanghai-style duck in a sauce of scallions, ginger and star anise.
$7-$18, 360 E. ERIE ST., 414-488-8036
During the pandemic, the Third Ward’s DanDan American-Chinese restaurant hit it hard with carryout, really honing what they already do so well – solid Asian-inspired fare that doesn’t claim to be traditional. Their dishes are ones I go back to again and again because they’re consistently good, such as the plump, spicy Sichuan pork dumplings, simple but delectably complex dan dan noodles (named after the “dan dan” carrying pole that street vendors use) and deep-fried General Tso’s cauliflower, a standout vegetarian version of the sweet-sour Chinese-American dish.