Best Kept Secret (Restaurant Division) St. Louis 2012 - Famous Szechuan Pavilion
Famous Szechuan Pavilion came into this world as a former snow-cone hut on Manchester Road in Brentwood. It was, at the risk of understatement, a strange set-up: You either ordered from the drive-through window or sat at one of the three or four seats at the minuscule counter inside — essentially right in front of owner Xin Cin, as she cooked you ferociously hot and incredibly tasty Szechuan dishes. This past spring Xin uprooted Famous Szechuan Pavilion and moved it to the Jeffrey Plaza strip mall in University City. At least the old place had double-take potential as you drove past: "Is that a...Chinese restaurant...in a snow-cone hut?!" (Now it's a drive-through sushi joint. The weirdness abides.) The new Famous Szechuan Pavilion looks more like a restaurant than the previous edition, if a bare-bones one. The food still bursts with chile heat and the unique numbing sensation imparted by Szechuan peppercorns. Dan dan noodles with chicken or pork are a good introduction to the experience; advanced diners might proceed directly to the sweat-and-euphoria-inducing spicy wonton soup.