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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Casual restaurant

Sun–Thu 11:00am–10:00pm
Fri–Sat 11:00am–10:30pm

Bar None
Credit cards Visa, MC
Reservations Not accepted

Logan Circle
1527 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 797-8888
Great Wall Szechuan House
A hole in the wall with some holes in the menu, but a jackpot, too

Despite a name that screams crappy campus take-out, Great Wall has all the trappings of the ordinary concealing the extraordinary: waiters who don’t speak English, glaring bright lights and a dusty cafeteria floor, rickety tables, strange sodas, and a slightly sketchy location. Plus, the place is open late.

Which is not to say that the restaurant is without its endearing quirks: in addition to family-style tables with lazy susans (and oh, how we love lazy susans!), Great Wall has perhaps the most interesting assortment of plates and cutlery you’ll see in Washington: the collection includes an eclectic mix of plastic plates with children’s themes and Chinese village pictures, complemented by plastic serving spoons with yellow-pink swirls on the handle.

Like at many Chinese finds, the menu has a Jekyll-and-Hyde quality to it: the Ma La Szechuan dishes are sensational, and the rest of the menu is mediocre. Ma La is the classic Szechuan combination of chili oil, Chinese peppercorns, and other herbs, which can leave your tongue pleasantly numb, your mouth quivering, your eyes streaming, and you begging for more. Great Wall does as well with this cuisine as any restaurant in the District. The best dishes take advantage of all the pungent flavors Szechuan cooking has to offer: try the Ma La dumplings or the chewy, rich double-cooked pork. The Ma Po tofu with ground pork is an incredible combination of blazing heat and cool, smooth tofu. Szechuan green beans are a reliable staple as well. Eggplant is well prepared, if a bit oily. Only the Ma La chicken is a disappointment, due to ordinary noodles and rubbery meat.

One caveat: when ordering, you’ll have to look your server in the eye and really convince him or her that you really mean it when you say “spicy”—otherwise, they’ll bring out a version toned down to suit Western eaters. If you’re lucky, and you play your cards right, you might just leave mumbling, because that’s all your shocked, numbed lips will be up to: Ta ya Gra Wa, Ma La wa yum!

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