Shen’s Szechuan and Sushi in Vandalia

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Cheng Du Chicken at Shen’s Szechuan and Sushi in Vandalia; photos: Paula Johnson

Shen’s Szechuan and Sushi, located on Poe Avenue in Vandalia, is a lot more upscale than the average casual Chinese eatery. With an ample parking area and two large cement dragon sculptures flanking the spacious building’s entrance, Shen’s appears ready to welcome a crowd. PIP (Palate In Progress) and I dined there on a Monday evening and found the bar area populated by a number of folks relaxing after work, along with several tables full of diners in the seating area. Shen’s wants to be a place that functions as a great place to have cocktails as well as food, more of a going-out-for-an-evening restaurant. A hostess greeted us enthusiastically then ushered us through the dining room to a comfortably upholstered booth. The interior, with muted but ample lighting, features cream, gold, and red tones on the walls and fabrics. The design indicates that a lot of care and thought were invested into the space; I hoped that the same level of attention to detail would be found in what came out of the kitchen.


Searching for Spice

Our server arrived to take our drink order. I chose a modestly priced red blend by the glass. Shen’s has an adequate and affordable selection of wines by the glass (most from $6 to $9) as well as cocktails. They also offer a changing array of craft beer and a page of saki choices. As for food choices, I had looked online at Shen’s website and knew that they offered a traditional menu along with the regular menu, but I didn’t see any of those items on the menus we were given. I asked our waiter about it. “That’s the menu that features more home-style dishes. It’s very popular,” he told us. (I wonder why this menu isn’t given out regularly?) He made a few recommendations, beginning with the Peppercorn Calamari ($6.95) appetizer. He asked if we liked spicy, since this dish was, and we nodded vigorously. We added the Spicy Szechuan Dumplings ($5.95), per his advice, and my favorite, Scallion Pancake ($3.95).

Neither the calamari nor the dumplings were spicy. The calamari, though listed as served with jalapeno, garlic, and peppercorns, wasn’t at all peppery—and certainly didn’t have any Szechuan peppercorns, those amazing, tongue-numbing little bombs of peppery sensation. The dumplings were bathing in a sea of overly sweet sauce, not resembling the spicy pepper sauce the menu indicated. We rescued them from the sauce and ate them without. Shen’s Scallion Pancake, a crispy little snack that’s hard to do wrong, was just fine.


Cheng Do?

We chose one dish from each menu, again following our server’s direction. He suggested the Cheng Du Chicken ($12.95) and, from the Traditional menu, Twice Cooked Pork Belly ($13.95). The chicken dish featured chopped ginger and copious amounts of sizable garlic chunks (not a dish for a non-garlic fan) but was scarce on the Szechuan chili pepper. Our server hadn’t asked what level of heat we wanted, so I requested some additional chili spice to add in. This helped a bit, but really can’t substitute. And while I liked that the sauce was thinly glazed, as opposed to drowning in thick, gloppy sauce, this dish really only tasted of ginger and garlic.

The Pork Belly dish featured ribbons of rich and fatty pork along with slabs of smoked tofu and chunks of sautéed cabbage. This is a good combination, but was sweet, lacking a sharpness and tang that might have balanced it out. Additionally, the cabbage was very soft. A little crunch would have nicely countered the soft meat and tofu. Overall, it was homey comfort food, but not exciting.

PIP and I sipped tea and enjoyed our pleasant surroundings, reflecting on the meal. The disappointment was that as much as I liked the vibe and atmosphere of the space along with the service, I can’t say what we ate lived up to those elements. There was too much sugar and a distinct lack of heat and depth of flavor in almost everything. Ambiance and service are part of what’s needed to make a really good dining experience, and while those things count for a lot, they don’t count as much as food. Taste trumps look and feel, and this is where Shen’s needs to focus.


Shen’s Szechuan and Sushi is located at 7580 Poe Ave. in Vandalia. For more information, please call 937.898.3860 or visit


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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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