Over the past decade, Sichuan food has made inroads in the Bay Area, but most of the local restaurants specializing in the cuisine tend to focus on serving a proper dinner: numbing-hot mapo tofu, water-boiled fish, and seemingly infinite variations on a hot pot meal. But what if you’re looking for spicy drinking snacks — and you’d like to be able to stuff yourself silly for $10 or $20?
Welcome, then, to Rolling Snack, a charmingly named new Sichuan restaurant tucked inside a Newark strip mall, down in the East Bay suburbs, is here to fill that void. Open for a little over a month, the restaurant features an entire menu of nothing but Sichuan street snacks — the kind of aggressively seasoned, shockingly inexpensive food you’d normally only find at a night market or a street-side food stall in Sichuan, according to Eddy Guo, who manages the restaurant.
As nostalgic Asian expats have often pointed out, the Bay Area doesn’t really have the kind of night market culture that you can find in cities like Taipei, Hong Kong, and Chengdu. And Chinese street food, even when it’s offered, tends to get reined in to fit a sit-down setting.
Rolling Snack serves its food in a restaurant setting too, but its uniqueness lies in its single-minded focus on Sichuan street snacks. According to Guo, there are hardly any dishes on the menu that would qualify as an entree — it’s all food that you’d eat standing up while strolling the night market, or perhaps while playing cards and drinking beer with friends at home.
The restaurant’s Chinese name, 肉林 (“rou lin”), plays off the sound of the English “rolling” — and, conveniently, translates as “lots of meat” or, literally, a “forest of meat.” Which is fitting since its signature offerings are its stunning array of Sichuan fried meat skewers and cold braised meats — including all the beef tripe, pork intestines, and duck heads an offal lover could ever hope for.
Within the context of Chinese restaurants in the U.S., there aren’t many places specializing in this particular subset of Sichuan street food — specifically, skewers that are deep-fried as opposed to grilled the way they would be at a typical shaokao, or Chinese barbecue, spot. In fact, Guo believes Rolling Snack is one of the only restaurants of its kind in the entire country. At a minimum, here in the Bay Area, it’s a fairly singular spot.
The menu is divided into a couple of sections: The headliners are the Sichuan-style fried skewers, which are available in a whopping 24 different varieties — everything from squid to chicken gristle and beef tripe (a forest of meats!), with plenty of interesting vegetable skewers too, like A-choy, oyster mushrooms, and thinly sliced potatoes. At just $0.69 a pop ($0.59 for the vegetables), it’s possible to order one of every single skewer on the menu and still feel like you’re being frugal.
The technique the restaurant uses for the skewers is the same as you’d find at a night market stall in Sichuan, Guo says: Each skewer only has a single piece of meat on it, and the skewers are flash-fried for just 15 seconds in 380-degree hot oil. Then, for a blast of heat, they’re dusted with a spice mix that consists mainly of dried er jing tiao chiles, Sichuan’s characteristic red chile pepper. (Though it isn’t obvious on the restaurant’s website, Guo says there’s a non-spicy sauce option, too, made with ketchup, doubanjiang, and sweet bean sauce.)
The other main category of dishes are cold braised items (or “luwei”), which get simmered in a stock made with 26 different Chinese herbal spices, according to Guo — Sichuan peppercorn, star anise, fennel, and such. Popular picks include the mala, or tongue-numbingly spicy, duck heads, necks, wings, and feet.
Meanwhile, the closest thing to an entree at Rolling Snack is a plate of spicy stir-fried frog legs, which Guo says customers like to order over noodles. The restaurant is also one of the few places in the Bay Area that’s making its own stinky tofu — that pungent, intensely fermented delicacy — in-house. It comes deep-fried, with a spicy sauce.
According to Guo, the restaurant has done reasonably well since it opened in late 2020, attracting a number of customers who drive as far as 45 minutes or an hour just to come pick up a takeout order. That said, Guo expects business will pick up once dine-in service is allowed. After all, like so many other classic street foods, the Sichuan skewers are best eaten right away — a reason why many customers dig in as soon as they get back to their car.
Rolling Snack is open for takeout Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–9 p.m.