Sichuan Wok resides in a small house amid the residential high-rises of Ballston – iconic of Northern Virginia’s urban-suburban evolution. In the same way, the Sichuan Chinese restaurant resists the neighborhood gentrification and offers hearty meals with plenty of tang at little cost.
The outside patio seems oddly placed amid a sea of buildings, perhaps better suited for the beach – still, on a warm evening sit outside and take in the tranquility of Ballston’s concrete charm – there is something to be said about the twilight calm of a residential block away from the traffic-ridden Ballston Corner.
Prompt, friendly service signifies a lot about an establishment, and comforts me to know that the restaurant cares about patrons – in that vein Sichuan Wok performs very well, from the front counter where I fetched a menu, to the dutiful meal and water service on the patio.
There isn’t much out of the ordinary at Sichuan Wok, its menu comes across as standard fare among Chinese restaurants, the omnipresent broccoli and some meat (or tofu) to tag along. However, one can’t be too critical of Sichuan Wok – the food is delicious and, well, cheap. Doesn’t the saying go: to be savory is good, to be cheap divine? Well, that applies here anyhow.
As a consummate vegetarian, the evening’s first course came out of personal hypocrisy and polite deference to my dining partner’s choice of appetizer – a fried egg roll ($1.20) filled with morsels of shredded beef and cabbage, served with the familiar packet of orange duck sauce. Of course, one could easily have ordered the vegetarian egg roll, too – an oversight on my part – but the meaty egg roll remained satisfying.
On to the night’s entrée, my friend – afraid of the Sichuan region’s renown for heat and spice – opted for a plate of six fried meat dumplings ($4.65), accompanied by a small dish of soy sauce. The meal satiated my carnivorous companion, and the large serving of dumplings looked well presented – not dry and overly fried – the sort of decent Chinese food one hopes to buy for no large sum of money.
In a determined effort to return to a pious vegetarian diet, I atoned for my sinew-eating by ordering a traditional Sichuan specialty with a vegetarian twist, the Kung Pao Tou Fu ($6.95) – a simple delivery to the senses of typical Sichuan sensations: feverishly hot, peppery and, yes – hot. (Think Seinfeld’s George Costanza sweating as he defends his affinity for Kung Pao; I was in the same place crying, “Dean likes spicy tofu!”)
If pop culture references elude you, Sichuan Wok’s tastes won’t.
Eating the hefty portion of tofu marinated in Sichuan Wok’s special blend of chili and spices, I noticed as I wiped away tears that the heat partially overwhelmed the dish’s taste, hardly allowing me to notice, let alone savor the diced carrots, peanut halves, spring onions and watercress mixed with the tofu.
Even so, the meal was palatable, and what’s more, along with white rice and plenty of water, I enjoyed it. The sizable pile of marinaded tofu also ensured enough food for tomorrow’s lunch.
For the struggling newspaper reporter and the wallet-conscious, Sichuan Wok’s ability to serve amply and cheaply works to everyone’s benefit. Swing by or call in and order a meal special, which hovers around $6 for lunch and up to $10 at dinner, and receive an egg roll or choice of Won ton, hot and sour or egg drop soup with the main course and rice. It’s a brilliant deal keeping in mind the portions and good quality of Sichuan Wok’s kitchen.
901 N Quincy St, at 9th St. N.
Arlington, Va. 22203