My favorite thing about working so close to San Francisco’s Chinatown is that I’m only a short walk away from some of the best dining in the city. There’s so much variety — Hunanese, Shanghainese, and Sichuanese, to name a few. Thanks to Z&Y Restaurant, I’ve developed a taste for the tongue-numbing peppercorns that characterize so much of Sichuanese cuisine, and these days, I can’t seem to get enough.
During one of my first visits to Z&Y, my dining group and I were served clam and spinach soup, in a clear, briny broth. This palate-cleansing soup was lightly seasoned, in contrast to what was to come.
We were also served a dish of vinegared cucumbers, seasoned with garlic and sesame oil. While not an entree, this is one of my favorite dishes at Z&Y. It’s fresh, crunchy, and a welcome bite of relief from the otherwise chili-laden dishes.
I’ve ordered from Z&Y’s lunch menu and from their a la carte, and I recommend the latter if you’re interested in Sichuan-specific cuisine. I’ve been lucky to visit with folks who speak Mandarin and hence know what to order from both the English and non-English menu.
During this visit, we shared the scallion pancake, spicy fish with flaming chili oil, chicken with explosive chili pepper, the Sichuan-style cold chicken, and the dry sauteed string beans.
To this day, it remains some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever tasted. Even if you don’t have a high tolerance for heat, try a spicy dish or two among the other items you order at Z&Y. Intimidating name aside, the chicken with explosive chili pepper was particularly wonderful: juicy, crispy, fried pieces of boneless chicken tossed with flavorful bits of garlic and chili. The dry sauteed string beans were so delicious that I’ve since learned how to cook them at home. (And oh, although the ma po tofu isn’t pictured here, Z&Y is where I had my first ma po tofu, and I find myself craving it all the time now.)
Service is brisk and friendly at Z&Y, and as long as I stick to the a la carte menu, nearly every dish has had me head over heels. I want to learn to cook everything that’s served at Z&Y, but until then, a short walk to their restaurant is a pretty sweet deal.