I am beyond thrilled to write about Lao Sze Chuan Chinese Restaurant because I tried their food for the first time in April, and since then, I cannot seem to stop myself from going back for more.

One time, when I ordered Lao Sze Chuan, I was in a rush to eat before heading up to Chicago. I was half-packed and had about a million things to finish up before leaving town for the weekend, and I thought I would grab a quick bite before getting on the road for two hours. But after the first mouthful, I was hooked and found myself enjoying the meal so much that I decided to push back the departure time by an hour. I got to Chicago later than I expected, but every minute that I could spend eating the restaurant’s delicious food was worth the delay.


I ordered the chef’s special dry chili chicken, crab rangoon, crispy Japanese tofu with salted egg yolk, and eggplant. I wanted a good mix of crispy and soft textures with half-and-half meat to vegetable ratio.

A close up of the chef's special dry chili chicken has small chicken bits and hot peppers sliced. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

The chef’s special dry chili chicken ($13.95) was one of the restaurant’s specials, so I was tempted to try it. The dish came packed with small pieces of dry chili and fried chicken bits. I am not too good with spicy food, but I thought the dish was flavorful with a mild spiciness that helped boost my appetite. The dry chili chicken was good on its own, but when combined with rice or other soft vegetable dishes, it highlighted the meal with delightful crispiness that added a bit of crunch to every bite.

The author holds up one crab rangoon in front of a white wall. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

If I were to order appetizers from Asian restaurants, crab rangoons would not be my go-to because often, I find them to be oily with not enough filling inside. On the other hand, my partner loves eating crab rangoons before his main course, so I decided to order them for him. Lao Sze Chuan’s crab rangoons ($6.45) turned out to be a delightful surprise as they were crispy, had good filling-to-shell proportions, and added rich creaminess to the meal. Usually, I would take one of the crab rangoons and let my partner have the rest, but I had to fight him for my fair share of Lao Sze Chuan’s appetizer.

A very close up photo of the eggplant dish which is saucy and hard to tell that it's eggplant. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

Whenever I get Chinese food, I always try to order at least one vegetable dish. In my opinion, it is easy to make exquisite ingredients or naturally flavorful meats taste good but it is a true testament to a restaurant’s capabilities when it can transform humble sources of flavor such as an eggplant. Lao Sze Chuan’s eggplant ($11.95) was delicious with its salty and spicy garlic sauce. I also appreciated that it came with an ample amount of sauce that I could have it with rice and other dishes. If anyone wants a soft yet decadent vegetable dish to go with the rest of their meal, I highly recommend Lao Sze Chuan’s eggplant.

The tofu with salted egg yolk is in a white takeout container with bits of green onion tops sprinkled overtop. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

Last but not least, I was looking forward to trying Lao Sze Chuan’s crispy Japanese tofu with salted egg yolk ($15.95). I know lots of people would not actively seek out tofu if they could have other options, but I grew up eating freshly made batches of tofu from street markets in Korea and silken tofu is one of my favorite textures in the world.

The Japanese tofu used for the dish had a texture akin to that of silken tofu, and it was covered in salted egg yolk flakes that added an umami and almost cheese-like nuttiness to the palate. I am not ashamed to admit that I probably have ordered the same crispy Japanese tofu with salted egg yolk at least three times in the last two months. I never seem to get tired of eating it — and I do not think I ever will. At one point I even looked up how to make the same dish at home, but upon watching YouTube tutorials for a while, I realized that I have no cooking talent, and it would probably be best if I continue to order from Lao Sze Chuan occasionally. But if anyone visits Lao Sze Chuan and wanted a menu recommendation, I will not hesitate to direct them towards this eggy, creamy goodness.

Every time I order, of course, I always get the crispy Japanese tofu with salted egg yolk, but I try to order something different to accompany each meal. So far, I have tried Lao Sze Chuan’s tofu homestyle, the seafood platter with Japanese tofu, the lamb with pure cumin, and the spicy dry pot series with pork ribs. I can safely say that every dish was worth the money and calories.

Lao Sze Chuan’s food was my main source of motivation for successfully finishing the semester. I could write a couple more pages about each of their dishes and rave about them, but I think it would be best if others try the food as well and see for themselves how good it is. I am certain that I will be returning for more in the future.

Lao Sze Chuan
608 E University Ave
Champaign
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Top image from Lao Sze Chuan's Facebook page.