Eating in Palo Alto can be a well-polished yet shallow affair. Along University Avenue there are more than 100 different restaurants of nearly every imaginable style but behind the Vegas-style, professionally designed rooms lies a certain sameness.

There are also some hidden gems; the dishes from a chef’s grandmother’s hometown or a flash of brilliance beyond the normal beet salad or shrimp with garlic. If you’re willing to dig a little, Palo Alto offers Chinese food that’s anything but ordinary.

There are two brave outposts of regional Chinese cooking on El Camino Real that offer broad menus that warrant thorough investigation. Faced with the power of nostalgia and inexpensive carbohydrates, why would restaurants swing toward authentic regional Chinese? These traditional cuisines can be challenging. Spices are bold, textures can be peculiar. But today’s desire for new tastes, as well as a significant local Chinese population, have lead to a welcome influx of traditional Chinese flavors.

Both restaurants are near the Palo Alto/Mountain View border and serve quirky, lengthy menus rich in regional specialties and reasonable prices. Su Hong Palo Alto broke away from old-school Chinese-American style in the 1980s. Su Hong Menlo Park has a long history, but its Palo Alto location was known for a secret Chinese menu, including excellent crab dumplings and other Shanghai treats.

When Su Hong Menlo Park moved to its new location at 4256 El Camino Real, the restaurant unfurled its regional pride, adding Shanghai specialties to the English-language menu. Traces of the old Su Hong remain, such as the Trader Vic’s-style pu pu platter ($14.95), now nearly a historic artifact in its own right, and an unused full bar.

The Shanghai xao long bao (soup dumplings, $7.50) were good but ultimately underwhelming due to a slight lack of spice, thicker skins than the best and the mediocre soup could use improvement, but the lion’s head in clay pot ($15.95) was a true winner. The dish was sumptuous, with the meatballs swimming in a rich fatty gravy and greens stewed to tender perfection.

Su Hong dedicates an entire section of the menu to hand-shaved noodles. The family-style, stir-fried, hand-shaved noodles ($8.50) I tried lacked some of the snap and bite of what I’ve loved in China, but Su Hong should be praised for even adding the dish to the menu. Overall, Su Hong’s ingredients and execution are high quality, but the kitchen seems a bit distracted by the half of the restaurant enjoying mu shu pork and Mongolian beef.

The food is served in the authentic Chinese style, which encourages assertive action because the waiters never interrupt your conversation to ask if the meal is to your liking. When you have their attention, service is enthusiastic.

Da Sichuan Bistro has an entirely different pedigree. Da Sichuan was previously a storefront in Fremont, a favorite city for humble, inexpensive and tasty regional-cooking specialists. Fremont brims with similar understated restaurants, so Da Sichuan crossed the Dumbarton Bridge seeking opportunity and a less crowded market for authentic Sichuan cuisine.

The service at Da Sichuan is exemplary. The menu’s English translations leave much to be desired, so help is necessary. Simply point out what you’re looking for among the Sichuan dishes. On a recent visit, our waiter steered me to the “spicy fish fillet,” ($15.95) an exceptional dish of mashed Sichuan peppercorn ladled over a very large pile of fish fillets.

Lamb with cumin ($12.95) was a less tasty affair with the cumin taste not as vibrant as necessary to overcome lamb of only moderate quality. The Chongqing hot pot ($12.95) wasn’t true hot pot, with raw meats available for cooking in the numbing broth, but a more bastardized version closer to a traditional Sichuan boiled beef. The broth lacked a little depth and richness, but was quite pleasant, and I would order this again with beef and lamb, instead of the fish our server recommended.

A true standout was the dry-spice intestine ($8.95) cooked with a large amount of the explosively bright yet numbing spice. The dish would best be described as calamari meets pork churros.

Da Sichuan seems more a labor of love than a business. The owners are there every night, talking to customers in Mandarin, making friends, circulating among the 10 tables. The misses come simply from lapses caused by low-quality ingredients. The ubiquitous fish fillet tasted as if it had been previously frozen and sometimes has a peculiar off taste. I’ll keep going back when I’m ready for a challenge and something new.