EMei’s Szechuan plates marry numbing peppercorn heat, savoriness and fermented funk — thwarting any idea that the cuisine can be described solely by a whack-you-across-the-head shock of spice. We’re talking pieces of freshly fried Chongqing chicken that will make you wonder if you’re now the kind of person who fills your purse with Chongqing chicken (rightly assuming the crispy, crunchy pieces laced with dried Szechuan chilies might come in handy the next time you’re stuck in line at CVS or on the 42 bus or simply desperate to microdose the EMei experience). We’re talking mapo tofu, its cubes gathering in a thick, numbing sauce with momentary salt explosions from fermented black beans and rich ground pork. A whole grilled sea bass swimming in pickled pepper sauce with cabbage and bean sprouts. For all these reasons, the city is vastly better off with EMei in it. And we shouldn’t take the business for granted, especially given Chinatown’s recent challenges: pandemic-ignited anti-Asian racism, a slowdown in foot traffic, and a Sixers arena looming on the horizon.
by HANNAH ALBERTINE, ALEX TEWFIK, JASON SHEEHAN, and REGAN FLETCHER STEPHENS | Published in January, updated in Fall 2022.
“EMei hits the spot, always—the tingling spices, the mix of textures and pops of chile. I find myself constantly ordering too much food on purpose so I can come home and eat smothered cold spicy noodles every night after work.”
An impressive contemporary makeover for the dining room in late 2019 brought this Szechuan standby owned by Tingting Wan and her husband, Dan Tsao, back near the top of my Chinatown list. And that dining room is now open again. But EMei’s boldly flavored dishes also travel well through takeout, including one of the best mapo tofus anywhere, lip-numbing fu qi fei pian, cumin-flared lamb, fresh flounder bathed in hot chili oil, shredded beef with long hot peppers, Chongqing spicy chicken, and the cooling balm of cold sesame noodles. Tsao’s new company, RiceVan, can deliver EMei’s food (and that of 20-plus other Chinatown restaurants and grocers) up to
60 miles away. Those dishes, though, must be reheated.
Spicy Szechuan is served family-style at EMei Restaurant, where the large round tables have plenty of room for passing and sharing. You won’t find Americanized cuisine here — chef Zhao pledges to keep things authentic with fiery flavors from chili oils and peppercorns familiar to those with roots in Western China.