Little Szechuan: The Best State College Asian Restaurant You’ve Never Heard Of
It often seems that the best restaurants in State College are the most unassuming, humble, and modest storefronts in the downtown area. Such is the case for many small towns. One such culinary gem is Little Szechuan, a small Asian restaurant located in the small College Avenue strip mall between Fraser Street and Burrowes Street.
You’ve likely walked by Little Szechuan hundreds of times. You’ve probably gone into the Starbucks next door for a frappuccino or stopped by Five Guys for a quick burger and fries. Chances are that you paid little attention to the tiny restaurant in the corner with the big red sign above the door.
I was no different than you. I spent my first year or so at Penn State frequenting Uncle Chen’s, a cheap favorite amongst students with the stereotypical goopy General Tso’s dinner specials. I eventually migrated to better spots like Big Bowl Noodle House and Green Bowl when that weekly Asian food craving came around. But just a few weeks ago, I took to the Internet and went to Yelp to find out which State College Asian restaurant has the best reviews.
That’s when I found Little Szechuan, and boy am I glad that I found it. The Yelp reviews were encouraging, but I wasn’t a true believer until I stepped inside the eatery for the first time. To my surprise, the restaurant was packed. Not only that, most of the clientele consisted of international students who have a more experienced Asian food palate and can tell the good stuff from the fakers.
In the coming weeks, I ate at Little Szechuan again and again, trying different menu items and exploring dishes that are both familiar to me and those that fell in uncharted territory within my culinary landscape.
The Kung Pao Chicken was perfection. It was light sauced but packed with flavor. The cubed chicken was lightly fried and slightly crispy, unlike those long stringy pieces of chicken you typically get from local Asian places. The vegetables were a great complement to the chicken without dominating the dish. They don’t skimp on meat at Little Szechuan.
Beef dishes like the Pepper Steak with Onions or the Cumin Beef were pleasant surprises, featuring tender slices of seemingly high-quality meat as opposed to the usual stuff that seems like it came off the discount rack at the supermarket.
Cold appetizers like the Sesame Noodles or the Chengdu Noodles are the perfect combination of spicy and sweet in creamy, nutty sauces. Standard favorites like steamed or fried dumplings, egg rolls, and scallion pancakes will make you feel like you’re eating at a high-end restaurant, not a small takeout joint.
The noodle soup selection is smaller than that of Little Szechaun’s counterpart across town, Big Bowl, but dare I say that they have broths just as flavorful and complex as the fellow College Avenue Asian restaurant.
I could spend another 500 words listing menu items that stood out to me, but there really hasn’t been a dish that disappointed me yet. The prices are reasonable and the authentic Asian food is a favorite among international students for good reason.
The next time that you’re downtown debating where to grab a bite with your friends, think about trying something new and stop by Little Szechuan. I assure you that it will live to my high praises.