Late Night Noodling: Delicious Kitsch at the Szechuan House

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My boyfriend and I are night owls — freelancers, we work late; we eat around 11; we might sleep in later than you. Dining out presents a problem. In Baltimore, it’s almost impossible to find a restaurant open past 10 beyond the Paper Moon (get ready for a line) or Wendy’s drive-through (and another line). Enter heavenly Szechuan House, which is somewhat mysteriously open till midnight, throughout the entire week. Eccentric Hours of Business account for just one of six seductive reasons we’re addicted to this Chinese restaurant nestled in a nothing strip mall in Lutherville.

Reason Two: Killer Cuisine. Huge Hunan shrimp mixed with crisp vegetables, broccoli florets the size of a rose, all decked in exactly the right amount of brown sauce. Healthful brown rice is an option. My boyfriend, a vegetarian, can choose between several hearty tofu-centered dishes. The soy stuff is yummy, too, fried to the perfect firm texture. Popular noodle soups emit S’s of steam. A side sushi menu, which regulars tend to dabble in, exists too, though I stick to the proven Chinese options. One low note: Szechuan’s General Tso’s chicken and their sweet ‘n’ sour chicken are nearly equal parts meat and greasy breading. Otherwise, the old-school Chinese favorites are all really excellent. Entrees arrive magically fast, usually quite hot, and you’ll likely leave with leftovers. Not an exaggeration: The average entree costs less than 10 dollars. Oh, and as you scan the menu making up your mind, if your waitress likes you, or for whatever random reason, you may receive a silver bowl of shelled pistachios in addition to your guaranteed fried wontons. After dinner, the requisite fortune cookie comes sweetly set atop a scoop of rainbow sherbet. When the check lands, my boyfriend and I both offer to treat…knowing the total will be under $23, despite the fact the we’ve each downed a couple of glasses of wine while we feasted.

Szechuan House is Bring Your Own Alcohol and they’re totally friendly and supportive when you yank the bottle of Yellow Tail out. “Need wine glasses?” “Yes, please!” “Need opener?” “We brought one.” No fee for the privilege, however, if you ask them to uncork.

The Comfy/Tacky Decor and Low-Key Location Rock. If the food weren’t so fantastic, and the waitresses friendly without coming on too strong, Szechuan House’s strip-mall residence might not appeal. But there’s something so fun about driving to Lutherville late at night to park in a nearly empty lot shared by a nail salon, a dry cleaner, and a creepy gym called Spunk! It’s not the Gen-X irony that I dig, but the notion that I’m about to gain passage inside an alternative realm, in which the action rolls after hours, a semi-well-kept secret world, camouflaged by neon signs. (Though Szechuan House has earned glowing reviews and “Best of” nods from local publications, I find that many of my friends have not heard of the place till I suggest we meet there.) Inside, the carpeted restaurant is warehouse-roomy with the vibe of a grandparental dining room — arrive after 10, you’ll encounter maybe half a dozen patrons, maybe fewer; before 10, it’s busy, but the wait won’t ever be too long. (A suggestion: As a courtesy, show up before 11 on a weeknight, since traffic slows and the staff surely wants to go home once delivery orders are filed.) Most tables feature booth seating. Table cloths are pressed to impress. Aquariums swim with pebble-nibbling pet fishes. The electric chandeliers brighten the already way-bright white room too much, but too much is exactly what you want at Szechuan House. (Incidentally, don’t skip a trip to the bathroom where you’ll find a trademark “Lotus toilet” complete with a touch-pad menu of options for personal cleanup assistance. They probably got a deal on the high-tech thing. Don’t partake–no one does that!–merely observe.)

Wait. The Music alternates between extra-bombastic show tunes, like, “Man of La Mancha,” and melodramatic Chinese pop music, certain songs featuring a woman who sounds like she’s laughing and crying at once. We make a monthly trip to the House — at this point, we can sing along with certain bars as we meanwhile pig out until we just can’t pig anymore. Then it’s time for us to say in unison, “Listen, let me get the check!”

1427 York Road
(410) 825-8181



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1 COMMENT

  1. A brilliant choice. Thanks. Also, Szechuan House open every day/night of the year except, oddly, Thanksgiving. Mobs descend on the restaurant each Chrsitmas. Finally, along with the yin-yang Broadway/Chinese pop tunes, expect, every so often, a blast of Bee Gees greatest hits: How Deep Is Your Love of this place?

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