Yunnan Style Spicy Pork Ribs at Lao Yunnan ($11.95)
This one was a specialty from Spring World, and I can see why it has remained. Though it kind of looks like the Tony's Three Chili Chicken from Lao Sze Chuan, those pieces are actually cut up ribs, each with its own little bone in the middle. Think of these as the Chinese version of rib tips, and don't worry about getting your hands messy. They are also extra meaty, thanks to a generous helping of fermented black beans.
Famous Cross-Bridge Rice Noodles at Lao Yunnan ($6.95)
Advertised as one of the most popular dishes in the Yunnan province, this soup features thick, squirmy rice noodles in an absolutely gargantuan bowl of broth. (The waitress admitted as much when I ordered, claiming that it was "huge.") Each spoonful is satisfying in the same way chicken soup on a cold day can be, though it really comes alive when you add a spoonful of the chili paste.
Cold Appetizer Combo at Lao Yunnan ($4.95 for three)
My favorite part about Lao Yunnan is actually the cold appetizer buffet. For less than five bucks, you can score huge portions of three different items. While none of the items are labeled, my waitress was more than happy to explain each one to me. I ended up with a plate full of mushrooms, sour green beans, and spicy bamboo silvers, which I kept returning to throughout the meal. The pickled kick of the sour green beans reminded me of the Ground Pork with Sour Pickle from Lao Hunan, as it somehow manages to be funky, assertive, and cleansing all at once.
House Special Grilled Fish in Spicy Pan at Lao Ma La ($22.95)
This is the most exciting new dish I tried, and from what I observed, it seemed like everyone else in the restaurant agreed with me. Just about every table at Lao Ma La had its own portable burner with what looked like a sheet pan on top. As the name implies, it's filled with a spicy broth, along with a freshly grilled fish. At first, it's kind of awkward to eat, if still rewarding; you simply attack the fish with your chop sticks, picking off as many hunks as you can. But I soon realized that this was only part of the story. Most people also ordered sides to add to the pan, turning this into a hot pot of sorts. I added needle mushrooms, tofu, and broccoli. Along with a side of rice, this is an epic meal for two, and totally worth the price.
Grilled Lamb Skewer ($2.00) and Fish Ball Skewer at ($2.00) Lao Ma La
Lao Ma La also knows its way around a charcoal grill. Skewers are available for $2 a piece, which isn't exactly cheap, but you could never call these dainty. The lamb was well charred, but still tender, while the fish balls were slightly crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. They were sprinkled with a chili mixture, which was spicy, yet still allowed you to appreciate the grilled items.