When the yearning strikes for Szechuan food, it’s for soft, sweet eggplant; noodles topped with a rubble of tingly chiles; broths floating with a logjam of peppers. It shouldn’t be so hard to find the numbing, tingling ma la blend—the double-punch of sensations—so particular to the region’s spice. I had been seeking these flavors and coming up empty-handed in the usual spots, even when bunches of red chile peppers hung like devil’s horns as décor. The tingling of the infamous Szechuan peppercorn never did materialize, or only fleetingly—a chimera. It is not the only defining characteristic of the cuisine. But at times, I was finding it bewilderingly easy to avoid altogether. And then I found Sichuan Folk.
Sichuan Folk opened three years ago, holding casual court on the corner of the shopping strip in Plano where H Mart draws a following for its Asian produce and Mozart Bakery lures with its red-bean buns and matcha cake. The atmosphere may be no-frills and the service may be cheerfully rushed. But Sichuan Folk captures the essence of its namesake region with its mesmerizing layers of aromatic heat. It’s there in the divine rendition of garlicky Yu Shan eggplant that gives in utterly to silky tenderness. It’s there in won tons flopped in Szechuan sauce, perhaps the best I’ve had in the city. And in a starting dish of Szechuan noodles with the cling of an earthier sesame-based sauce.
Sichuan Folk also distinguishes itself by excelling at hot pots, which come as a yin-yang of mild or spicy broths in which you can cook proteins and vegetables that jut out of the broth like flotsam. One pot will do for a whole table.
The kitchen brings in live frogs (they also serve the less-tender frozen) for the hot pot with crunchy bamboo stems and lotus root. My dining partner and I could not—like the couple next to us—coolly dig in to the fiery mass, distractedly spitting out tiny frog bones onto side plates while checking out phones. We beat a chastened retreat to cold appetizers from the case: crunchy pig’s ear, slicked and slicked with chile oil, muddled cucumbers, and wriggly wood ear mushrooms.
When our server forgot my chrysanthemum tea, I didn’t mind. I was happy I had finally found a place that respected the boldness and nuance of Szechuan flavors. My lips were still pleasantly abuzz an hour later. I dreamed that night of eggplant and won tons.