Let's be clear about this: Joy Luck Buffet isn't a secret, best-kept or otherwise. At lunch and dinner, patrons shuffle in a steady parade from tables to buffet and back again (and again). But even the most regular of regulars might not be aware that Joy Luck has a "secret" menu. Actually, the staff calls it an "authentic" menu, an apt label in that it features authentic Szechuan dishes you won't find on Joy Luck's buffet — or at just about any other Chinese restaurant in town. The hallmark of Szechuan cuisine is ma la, food that is both spicy and, thanks to the tingling sensation imparted by Szechuan peppercorns, numbing. For the full effect, order a bowl of the Chengdu spicy beef (a fiery broth containing tender slices of beef) or the dry-fried chicken. Szechuan cuisine offers far more than ma la, though, from the funky (a pile of pigs' ears dressed with chile oil) to the meaty (the pork knuckle or the beer-braised beef) to the ethereal (hot-and-sour noodles that'll clear your sinuses and enrich your soul). Fear not, intrepid eater, gaining access to Joy Luck's secret doesn't require a code or handshake or working knowledge of Szechuan dialect. The authentic menu is printed in English as well as Chinese. To peruse it, all you have to do is ask.
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