Gourmet chef looks to satisfy Chinese cultural taste in Evanston

Edward Cox, Assistant City Editor

Students who take weekend excursions to Chicago for authentic Chinese cuisine need look no further than Northwestern’s doorstep when Lao Sze Chuan opens this summer.

Owner and chef Tony Hu said he had meant to open the restaurant’s downtown Evanston location 10 years ago, but the plan has only materialized recently. The restaurant, which will open at 1637 Orrington Ave. in August, will add authenticity to a Chinese restaurant culture in America that has been Americanized, Hu said.

“Most of the (customers) are from Asia and a lot of (local) people fall in love with us,” Hu said. “I think in Evanston there is a lot of demand for authentic cuisine.”

The Evanston opening will add to Hu’s 11 restaurants that make up the Tony Gourmet Group, some of which are in Chicago. Another Lao Sze Chuan restaurant will open in Schaumburg

Since Hu graduated from the Sichuan Culinary Institute and moved from China to Chicago, he has spiced up taste for Chinese cuisine within the local communities on campus and around Chicago. Chelsea Yang, former president of the Chinese International Student Association, said Hu donated food in January to the club’s first cultural night, which was open to all NU students.

Chinese students at NU love Hu’s restaurants partly because of the diversity of food offered.

“(Tony uses) Chinese cuisine as an agent of connection to authentic Asian culture,” Yang said. “We are so overwhelmed with academics and culture conflicts … having Chinese food is such an emotional relief on the weekends.”

Yang said many students take weekend trips to the restaurant’s Chinatown location to taste dishes including orange beef tenderloin, spicy hot pot and boiled beef in spicy Sichuan sauce.

Hu was a bit of a celebrity in his hometown at Sichuan, said Kellogg student Tony Zhang, who said he heard about Hu while growing up in the province. Hu, Zhang said, was a Chinese cuisine pioneer, bringing Sichuan food to Chicago in 1998 when Chicago’s Chinese restaurant scene was predominantly Cantonese.

Yang said she thinks Lao Sze Chuan will introduce authentic Chinese cuisine to Evanston, which is home to Asian restaurants including Joy Yee’s, Phoenix Inn and Lulu’s.

“For actual Chinese people, these kind of fusion restaurants just don’t have authentic flavor of Chinese cuisine,” Yang said.

Hu and three restaurant managers attended the Greater China Business Conference organized Kellogg on Saturday, Zhang said. Hu has also catered for business school workshops in January , Zhang said.

Lao Sze Chuan looks to be a popular choice among NU students because it serves not only Sichuan food, but also other regional cuisine from Shanghai and Guangdong provinces.

“Evanston has a lot of people who are into Chinese food,” Zhang said. “I think that’s why he had a great opening.”