Week after week, I’m always busier than I thought I would be and getting together with friends takes a back seat to other work that’s always piling up. So when the weekend rolls around, I always try to set some time aside to see my friends. So on a Friday night when everyone was miraculously free, we went out to Szechuan China in Champaign. None of us had been here before, so it would be a new experience for all of us. It’s a small-ish restaurant on the corner of First and Springfield. We went around 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night and were able to get seats for all ten of us.

When it comes to Chinese food, my favorite way to eat is family style — this way everyone gets to try a little bit of everything. Luckily the group I went with felt the same way. We’re all eager to try every dish, and with an extensive menu, it was hard to narrow down what we wanted to order. In the end we settled on six dishes: three vegetarian, three non-vegetarian.

The first thing to arrive was the vegetarian ma po tofu ($9.95). It was a fairly large dish and very flavorful. Spicy without being overwhelming, and plenty of tofu. It went really well with rice. I’ve had ma po tofu many times and this was a really great vegetarian version.

Next up was the sliced fish with sliced pepper ($16.95). This is a fried fish dish, and it was delicious. I found that it was a little on the oily side, but aside from that great. The sliced peppers add a smoky flavor. The fish itself has got a nice crispiness to it. The fish was very tender on the inside and practically melted in our mouths. It was a nice contrast to the other softer foods we had.

The vegetable lo mein ($8.95) was the quickest dish to disappear. Everyone enjoyed it immensely. It had a nice mild flavor and was full of broccoli, carrots, and onions. This was a great dish to help balance out some of the stronger flavored dishes.

The third vegetarian dish we ordered was the shredded potato with spicy capscicum ($9.95). This was my first time having Chinese style potatoes. Normally, I expect potatoes to be soft, but these were a little harder. I’m not sure how they’re cooked, but this dish was a pleasant surprise. It’s not flavored very heavily, so the potato and capsicum flavor really comes out. I have to say, although it says spicy, it wasn’t very spicy at all.

Since we’d gotten vegetarian lo mein, we decided to go non-vegetarian for the rice and ordered a large beef fried rice ($8.95). I was a little hesitant about this because I’m not a fan of chewy meats, and beef can sometimes err on the side of being chewy. However, in this dish it was very tender and very delicious. There was also a good amount of meat in it so even with ten people, everyone was able to eat some. The rice itself was great: not too salty, not too bland, and not too oily. Overall, a great staple at our dinner.

Last, but not least, my favorite dish of the night: three cups of chicken ($14.95). I wasn’t sure at all what to expect from this dish, but a few of my friends spoke highly of it. My only complaint is that I wish it was a larger dish. The chicken was tender and flavorful through and through. It’s a sweeter dish without being sickly sweet or feeling like dessert. It managed to retain its savory side while having some sweetness. This dish has more of a gravy, so it goes really well with rice. This was the second quickest dish to disappear, spending more time exchanging hands than sitting on the table.

Overall, the atmosphere was very peaceful and they had a table large enough to accommodate all ten of us. I was also impressed with the portion sizes; six dishes were enough to satisfy all ten of us with no leftovers. There were some really good vegetarian options to choose from. It was a really enjoyable experience getting to eat family style and try all the dishes. I recommend that you do the same if you decide to go so that you can experience the most variety possible.

Szechuan China
401 S First St
Champaign
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Photos by Anusha Bansal