Yun Nan Garden
Szechuan Dan Dan Noodle
Yunnan Style Dried Beef
Ma Po Tofu
Lamb with Cumin
Eel Sauteed with Dry Pepper
Eggplant in Garlic Sauce
Chopped Smoked Duck
Chongqing Spicy Chicken
Tucked away behind the Kim Long Mall, near Chinatown Plaza, and doing the spicy thing in Las Vegas long before Chengdu Taste rolled into town, it was on the suggestion of a friend that five adults and two children sat down at Yun Nan Garden for a meal of *red star* specials that did little to dissuade even the timid thanks to the sort of spice focused on flavor rather than scorching the tongue tasteless.
Named for the Southwestern China Province of Yunnan, an area revered by practitioners of Eastern Medicine thanks to its diversity of plants and herbs, diners visiting Yun Nan Garden are quickly met by a golden Buddha on walking through the doors, a dining room featuring tables of varied sizes spread out to seat perhaps one hundred comfortably, and all that space to be filled on a Friday night by 6:45.
Providing English-friendly menus and forks, but otherwise as traditional as anyplace on Spring Mountain from its service structure to the clientele, it was at a rounded-table with a rotating center that decisions were made with a focus on a variety, most the choices denoted as spicy, though a more detailed look would prove that the warning was present on almost 50% of Yun Nan Garden’s Cuisine.
Struggling for water and dishes at first, but oddly finding the service improving incrementally as the restaurant got busier, it was with a flood of plates that the table was suddenly alive with color and bold aromatics, the dried Beef which arrived first eating much like Jerky with a mild numbing effect while the Ma Po Tofu featured a heaping portion of soft cubes bathed in an oil-based Sauce that carried the spice straight to the sinuses without the more expected effect of leaving the lips and tongue tingling.
Turning next to stir-fry, the noodle-like Eels pleasantly slippery in a tangle of Onions and dried Chiles, Lamb with Cumin proved to be the nights most fragrant dish with both the tender bits of Meat and Peppers picking up a lot of earth and nutty notes, the Eggplant in Garlic Sauce similarly submitting to the flavors around it while still maintaining a fibrous, springy texture.
Turning up the temperature with Dan Dan Noodles served Szechuan style, the combination of the region’s eponymous Peppers and a whole lot of Garlic best taken in moderation for those moving from plate to plate, chopped Duck was a complete change of pace from everything else with a great bit of smoke and bones that are navigable, the Chongqing Spicy Chicken a return to Yun Nan’s strike zone that mostly tastes like really good double-fried Chicken…unless of course one chooses to chew up a few of the accompanying Peppers that almost immediately renders the palate tone-deaf and mouth watering.
FOUR STARS: Doing the ‘hot’ thing right, not just trying to torch mouths but instead focusing on flavor, Yun Nan Garden is a hidden gem removed from the main drag that is Spring Mountain Road, the service better than many similar spots and everything from the tables to the restrooms also much cleaner.
RECOMMENDED: Yunnan Style Dried Beef, Chongqing Spicy Chicken, Chopped Smoked Duck, Chongqing Spicy Chicken.
AVOID: Due to the Garlic and heavily spiced oil the Dan Dan Noodles are best eaten in small bites to avoid overwhelming the palate.
TIP: Yun Nan Garden gets busy after 6:30, though those not wanting to wait are invited to order take-out from the menu or a warming counter where off-cuts like Duck Heads and Chicken Feet are sold.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.