Pittsburgh Restaurant Scene
Asking if there are Chinese restaurants in Squirrel Hill is on the same level as asking if there are any bars in the South Side! Of course there are, we counted at least 6 just in a 1-2 mile stretch. The key is, which restaurants are the ones worth trying. We have dined at Everyday Noodle and Ramen Bar, both were good, Everyday Noodle has the flash and publicity. However, we have found a gem! Thanks have to go out to my cousin Dan. If not for him we may never have known about How Lee.
From the outside most would drive by this place and never think twice about it. It has the look of all of the generic Chinese joints everyone has been to once or twice. The décor is eh, the building is older but in good shape and when you open the menu the first thing you see are all the “Americanized Chinese” food most people have eaten before. You know the stuff, Gen Tso’s, crab rangoons, overly sweet Sweet & Sour chicken/pork/shrimp. The key here, do not open the menu, just turn it over to see the food you SHOULD order! The top of this page states Authentic Sichuan Cuisine. Now we know they very well could be lying to us. In browsing this page I did notice a lot of food I have seen on numerous TV shows shot in China, so we were a little more confident in its honesty. Also, many diners were only ordering from this page and they were speaking with the servers in Chinese, so there is also that.
D and I were overwhelmed by this menu at first, what should we try, what should we skip?! We knew we wanted to try a couple apps and order 2 entrees to share. The waitress was very nice and didn’t laugh at us as we butchered the pronunciation of a few of the items. Keep in mind that my experience with Chinese cuisine is limited at best. I love eating it, but ingredients and tastes are tough to pinpoint. I just know whether or not I enjoy the food itself, what’s in it is not that important to me.
For apps we went with the Chongqin dumplings and the Roast Beef Tongue and Tripe in a spicy peanut chili sauce. These dumplings were outstanding!! If I hadn’t paid attention D would have downed the whole plate before I could grab one. They are swimming in a sauce with oil and sesame seeds and a few sweet and spicy things as well. Just be sure to order a bowl here no matter what else you want. The tongue and tripe was served chilled which we didn’t expect. The taste was very spicy, almost too damn spicy. Our server couldn’t refill our waters fast enough. Even through all the peppers and peppercorns you still can taste the rest of the dish, the peanuts and cilantro cut through some of the spice.
For entrees D chose the Salt & Pepper shrimp, while I had to try the Crispy Pork Belly with Leeks. The entrees are great but the apps definitely outshined them. My pork belly was a little dry, but the red bean sauce that it was tossed in was fantastic, tons of flavor. D’s shrimp was crispy and cooked perfectly. I have no idea what sauce was spooned on top of it but it was fresh and “herby”. The bed of iceberg lettuce the shrimp was served atop was unnecessary and was only used to fill up the plate.
After our first bite into the apps we knew we found a restaurant we would have to come back to again and again. We had numerous other dishes that we must try. Next time we may have to bring friends so we can order more dishes to sample. The classic line “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” clearly applies to How Lee. Now we are in no way saying run into every shady looking restaurant you see. We are saying don’t be afraid to try one. Sure, it could be terrible in which case you never go back, but what if it ends up being fantastic. You may find your new go-to spot. For us, that is a risk we are willing to take. Are you?