(So) Worth The Trip: Cheng Du 23 in Wayne

Szechuan sausage with pearl mushrooms, leeks and green garlic.

When one door closes, another one opens. That was certainly the case with Cheng Du 23. When the best local Chinese restaurant, Cheng Du 1, closed along with the movie theater in Cedar Grove, my family and I found ourselves jones-ing for some authentic Sichuan cuisine with nowhere to go.

I had seen Cheng Du 23 many times on my way to HomeGoods in the same strip mall near Willowbrook, but for years, didn’t give it a second look. With Cheng Du 1 gone, I started remembering people telling me how this Chinese place by the mall was really good. Then I remembered reading the wonderful Tommy Eats rave about it here (he also shares his favorite dim sum dishes.

Spicy Szechuan dumplings
Spicy Szechuan dumplings

Finally we dropped by one night, and what a good night it was. There were lots of familiar and favorite dishes — ma po tofu, spicy Szechuan dumplings and salt and pepper squid on the extensive menu. The dining room was large and welcoming, the service was great, and the food — was fantastic, even better than Cheng Du 1.

Soup dumplings!
Soup dumplings!

Great news, but then things got better recently. I had been back a few times on my own, when I received an invite to attend a tasting. This time, instead of sitting at a booth with the kids, the man and I sat at one of the restaurant’s large round tables, with a Lazy Susan built in the middle, and along with a group, were able to try dish after dish of authentic (and exotic!) Sichuan dishes, including tripe — specifically Ox Tongue and Tripe with Roasted Chili Peanut Vinaigrette.

Dry Sauteed String Beans ( can be ordered with pork or without)
Dry Sauteed String Beans ( can be ordered with pork or without)

Going with a group is great, because you can try more dishes (I think we sampled some 13-14 different appetizers and main dishes) and many were dishes I hadn’t ordered before, but now are on my faves list. One of those was the incredible Tea Smoked Bacon Sauteed with Wild Tea Mushrooms (you can find it under “Cheng Du House Specials” on the menu, which along with “Authentic Szechuan Cuisine,” are the sections you want to be ordering from to try more unusual fare beyond the typical dishes you see at most Chinese restaurant menus).

Some other faves selected by the wonderful Chef Kevin Lin: Boiled Eggplant with salted Egg Yolks and Chopped Green Pepper, a porridge-like comfort food; Sliced Lamb Sauteed with Cumin Powder and Chopped Dry Chili (full of flavor and aromatic); the gorgeously presented, fork-tender Pork Shank with Baby Bok Choy; and my favorite veggie, salty and slightly blistered Dry Sauteed String Beans.

Pork Shank with Baby Bok Choy

And while most of my favorite dishes lean toward the exotic, if you are going with kids or adults with less adventurous palates, Cheng Du 23 more than does justice to Chicken with Broccoli and other American Chinese restaurant menu classics. Check out the Kung Pao chicken and Firehouse Chicken (featuring black and King oyster mushrooms, bamboo shoot, dry chili and hot bean paste sauce) if you like something spicy.

Kung Pao
Kung Pao Chicken

Cheng Du 23, 6 Willowbrook Road, Wayne. (973) 812-2800, open daily 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Dim Sum – Sat & Sun 11:30 to 3 p.m. BYOB, parking available.

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