Tutao Cun: a restaurant we like enough to write about
Despite Sichuan cuisine's worldwide reputation, the average modern-day Chengdu restaurant tends to be of the no-frills, no-nonsense, just-eat-and-leave-would-you sort. So it is indeed a rare gem of an eatery that aims to inject a little more into the dining experience. But they're out there, and Tutao Cun is among them.
The restaurant is decked out in a style that dates back to Communism's heyday—posters of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and others adorn the walls, the leaders' watchful eyes gazing upon diners sitting at bare-bones wooden tables and benches. Humorous slogans are stenciled in red characters on the walls, and waitresses all wear military uniforms, red arm bands, and cloth shoes. Guests are addressed in military fashion—壮士/zhuàngshì for males and 女杰/nǚjié for females.
Despite these details, the charisma of the restaurateur himself serves as the driving force behind the restaurant's thematic success. Self-appointed "village leader" Xue Mingcheng was born in 1955 in Chengdu, sent to work among the peasants in the countryside of Ya'an's Shimian County for three years, and eventually set up Tutaocun in 1989. Today he tirelessly oversees the kitchen and staff and salutes guests when they enter, as they dine, and when they leave.
The décor and staff getups are no cheesy gimmick designed to distract from bad or mediocre cooking, either: The dishes are creative, thoughtful, and simply different from the standard fare served in local Chuancai restaurants. The boiled small potatoes with hot pepper dipping sauce (吃里扒外/chī lǐ bā wài—"eat the inside, remove the outside," i.e., peel off the skin before eating)
are a classic appetizer. Crispy and tangy deep-fried broad beans, sour fish-dumpling soup, crisp bean sprouts, and spicy laohu cai salad are among the restaurant's specialties. Even the standard Sichuan dishes such as twice-cooked pork, mapo tofu, and shredded potato receive special treatment—tomato slices among the potato shreds, for instance—that differentiate them from their sidewalk counterparts.
A home-brewed sweet corn liquor is served in earthenware flasks corked with dried corn husks and then poured into shallow earthenware bowls.
Leafing through the menu (or "studying quotations," as the wait staff say), with its cryptic dish names, won't do much to help you identify what you're eating, so ask Comrade Xue for recommendations. Most likely he'll just place the order for you, followed by a salute.
Having moved twice in the past few years (and undoubtedly more before then), the most recent time due to construction of the subway, Tutao Cun is currently located near the northwest section of the Second Ring Road, at Yingmenkou. Good luck finding it—it's worth the hunt.
Plan to spend around RMB40 to 60 per person.