China Family Restaurant – Sichuan Food of Austin

Nikolas Maffei

As a lifestyle of quarantine gradually ends, so too has the return of dine-in restaurants come in waves. This is the case for China Family Restaurant, one of Austin’s most underrated spots for spicy Sichuan Chinese food. Whether you are seeking takeout or a family-style experience, China Family has reopened its doors and is ready to serve up some of the best Sichuan Chinese food in Austin.

Regulars on the Drag may recognize the restaurant’s sister location, a takeout favorite for hungry college students. The Highland location’s greatly expanded menu and inclusion of more authentic Sichuan dishes is its greatest strength. General Tso’s namesake dish can be found, but items on the specialty menu such as Chongqing Spicy Chicken and Sichuan Braised Pork Belly are where its really at.

Originally opening on February 1st, 2019, China Family enjoyed normal operations until COVID closed its doors for dine-in back in March of 2020. It has remained undefeated by the pandemic, recently returning to full service with its owners ready to share their recipes. Many of the restaurant’s dishes are intended for sharing, as Family is at its core. Guests can often expect to leave with a full belly and a plate to take home for later.

Family-Style Dining and More

I had heard of the portion sizes beforehand, so I brought a friend and an appetite for my visit. Though clearly meant for indoor dining, the restaurant does have a modest outdoor area. The service around noon was polite and quick to tend to our table’s needs. It was relatively busy, but not to the point where we had to reserve our places ahead of time.

One mark of a great Chinese restaurant is a great selection of appetizers, regardless of the region from which they hail. China Family did not disappoint in this regard as it served us up classics like Fried Dumplings, Crab Rangoon, and complimentary rice. The Dry Fried Green Beans were my personal favorite, a steaming hot heap of garlic-seasoned snaps with plenty to share.

I wanted to play it safe to some degree, unfamiliar as I was with Sichuan food, so I initially ordered the Orange Chicken. I remember being surprised at the little orange rind garnish, but much of my experience was with the Americanized version. That must be why they call it Orange Chicken. What I remember most was how crispy the breading was; even when doused in sauce it didn’t get soggy. All of the vegetables were freshly steamed, as was the case with all of the entrees.

The Sichuan Chinese Food

More confident in the chefs’ talents after trying my first plate, I sought out items on the specialty menu which stood out. The sheer size and diversity of the menu can make it understandably intimidating to a first-time guest. At the personal recommendation of the (super nice and helpful) manager, I ordered the Chongqing Spicy Chicken. A traditional dish, its use of chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns provided a dry, numbing heat to the breaded chicken. The liberal use of garlic and dry spices/peppers reminded me of Cajun fried chicken, though notably lacking in Cayenne. 

Many dishes on the specialty menu are brought out on a cast-iron plate so that the food can remain hot throughout the meal. I wanted to try another meat besides chicken, so I opted for the Sichuan Lamb on Iron. It was my favorite dish of the three that I sampled. The presentation reminded me of going to a Mexican restaurant and ordering fajita meat off the skillet. A searing-hot griddle piled high with sizzling lamb, onions, and spicy peppers was brought out to me. The lamb was extremely juicy and tender, with each thinly sliced bite soaking up all of the flavors of the dish. I am normally used to chewy lamb chops, so this was a pleasant surprise! The sauce was very rich and goes great with their fried rice.

 As much as I wanted to try everything, the overwhelming amount of food on the table meant that I would have to return for other traditional recipes like Sichuan Braised Pork Belly. It is very clear that the owners are passionate in sharing their recipes, a sign of a great restaurant. Although not Austin’s only source for Sichuan Chinese food, it is this clear passion that grants China Family its authenticity. At the end of the day, they just want you to leave with a full belly and plenty of food. On that end, China Family Restaurant delivers some of the best Sichuan Chinese Food in Austin.