One of Chicago’s most famed Chinese restaurants has opened its latest outpost in Houston.
Hu Xiaojun, better known as Tony Hu — the unofficial mayor of Chicago’s Chinatown, opened Lao Sze Chuan — one of his most famous Sichuan restaurants — in Montrose earlier this week with great fanfare. The Montrose restaurant hosted a grand opening on Wednesday, June 21, which featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a dancing dragon performance, and remarks from U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who proclaimed June 21, 2023, “Lao Sze Chuan Day.” Though Jackson Lee was not in attendance, she offered a proclamation through a representative.
The Houston location of Lao Sze Chuan, which is named after a phase that loosely translates into “traditional Sichuan,” offers around 70 percent of the menu offered in Chicago, with traditional and modern takes on Sichuan cuisine, Hu says. Popular dishes include its dry chili chicken wings, crispy shrimp in a sweet and savory mango sauce, mapo tofu, cumin lamb, Sichuan string beans, and smoked tea duck.
The Montrose restaurant comes to fruition after nearly 10 years of planning, according to an Eater Houston conversation with Hu, who says he was inspired to open the location because of Houston’s “booming” and diverse dining scene. Now, he says, “The market is big, and we have local partners,” which has opened doors for other locations.
Hu, who also serves as the president of the US-China Restaurant Alliance, first opened a location of Lao Sze Chuan in Katy in 2021 but permanently closed that location after an issue with the lease, he says. Another location of Lao Sze exists on the Houston side of Bellaire Boulevard but is owned by partner Allen Liu and the Lao Sze Chuan restaurant group that Hu founded.
The chef notes that he was one of the first people to bring Sichuan cuisine to the Midwest in 1998, helping build Chicago’s Chinatown into what it is today. The restaurant now has 15 locations throughout the U.S., with nine in Chicago, and outposts also in Maryland, Connecticut, and Minnesota, Minneapolis. Hu says more locations are on their way, with another location opening in Ohio later this month. More are also planned for Texas, he says.
The major success of his businesses has not come without some controversy. Hu, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison and fined $100,000 in November 2016 after being charged with a battery of tax fraud-related crimes, according to an Eater Chicago report. The sentencing followed a four-year investigation during which the FBI and IRS raided Hu’s 10 Chinatown restaurants.