Shuang Cheng (Minneapolis, MN)

Like my review of Al’s Breakfast, several of my dining choices in Minneapolis were picked to revisit old favorites and see how they are doing. While Al’s Breakfast is one of my most-frequented restaurants (having eaten there pretty much once a week for 6.5 years), around the corner in Dinkytown is a pretty close second place: Shuang Cheng. AS a long-time tradition when I was at the University of Minnesota, my IT coworkers, led by my boss Bob, would go out for a group lunch every Friday. Most Friday’s that would mean rounding up a posse and heading over to Shuang Cheng (the name means “Twin Cities”), grab a large table, and have a big lunch. Indeed, we went so often that my boss Bob had his own special, the “Bob Special” (Sesame chicken, an egg roll, and a large wonton soup), that those in the know could order off-menu even if they didn’t know “Bob”. Indeed, Bob wasn’t available on this particular Friday, but we managed to round up a number of my former coworkers and make a lunch posse.

Walking into Shuang Cheng, not much has changed: some modest redecorating and reconfiguration of seating, but otherwise, the Shuang Cheng of the 2010s looks just like it did in the 1990s. Indeed, one of the big features is still present: a large specials board, written primarily in Chinese, that offers up almost an entirely secondary menu of Cantonese specials aimed at the many Chinese-speaking regulars that frequent Shuang Cheng. But for my visits, I’ll be honest, while I’ve dabbled with some of their authentic Cantonese dishes, most of the time I’ve been ordering classic “Chinese-American” menu items (and as I touched on back in my House of Wu review, something that I consider a worthy cuisine in its own right, “authenticity” be damned).

I was sorely tempted to just go with traditional, and actually order a “Bob Special”, since I strongly suspect that would have worked, but while Shuang Cheng’s sesame chicken is quite good (indeed, it’s pretty much the best version of that dish I’ve had), but I ended up going with a modified “Bob Special” substituting the chicken with dried orange peel for the sesame chicken), and pairing it with an egg roll and a large wonton soup. On one hand, American-style “Egg Rolls” are generally one of the least exciting parts of “Chinese” food, but occasionally I run into a place that consistently does egg rolls well, and Shuang Cheng is definitely one of the exceptional cases: every time I’ve gotten an egg roll here it’s been the perfect combination of crisp and warm without being excessively greasy (about the only place I’ve consistently had better egg rolls was the Chinese takeout place I went to in East Lansing as an undergraduate: Peking Express, although I haven’t been there in 25 years…).

The wonton soup is where Shuang Cheng really starts to shine. “Wonton soup” can bbe anything from a bowl of broth with a few thin filled wontons in it, to a rich bowl with rich, hearty, plentiful wontons plumped with spiced pork filling, and Shuang Cheng’s version is my gold standard for the latter: rich broth with large, meaty wontons with toothsome wrappers, strips of flavorful roasted pork, and some scallions adding flavor to the broth. It was a perfect way to start a meal at Shuang Cheng, only possibly matched by their high-quality hot and sour soup.

For the entree, this isn’t a complicated dish: it’s small pieces of breaded chicken served up in a slightly sweet (but not sticky-sweet) orange sauce with a lot of dried, bitter orange peel, over a bed of fried rice and lettuce. The trick here is the execution: the chicken is very nicely crisped and not-to-greasy, the orange sauce quite pungent, and the fried rice fresh. The combination is a thoroughly satisfying entree, and the price is quite reasonable as well ($7.15, including the egg roll).

Overall, I was very pleased to see that Shuang Cheng is basically unchanged from the experience I remembered as a graduate student: the food is still quite good (indeed, I’m still searching for a better wonton soup, especially on a cold winter day), the prices reasonable, and the staff friendly and efficient. It’s one of the most enjoyable “Chinese American” places I’ve experienced, and I enjoy going back on my visits to Minneapolis.

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