Beijing’s celebrated Peking duck. Char siu bao of Cantonese dim sum fame. And, of course, Sichuan’s Kung Pao chicken. In the Chinese cuisine Hall of Fame, these dishes would be among those cordoned off by velvet ropes, in their own VIP sections. They’re so famous and oft-ordered you can find them regardless whether you’re in China, Paris, Los Angeles, or South Dakota.
However, there are many great discoveries to be made outside of China’s most famous cuisine regions, and for one that’s often-overlooked but seriously delicious, look no farther than Shaanxi province. It’s the land of terracotta warriors, spanning 3,000 years of history, a place where noodles reign over rice. Shaanxi’s culinary fares are bursting with flavor; savory, sweet, spicy, sour—there’s something for everyone. You can smell the mix of cumin, vinegar, soy sauce, and chili pepper mingling harmoniously in restaurants and food stands throughout its capital, Xi’an. Such grandness carries over to size as well. Shaanxi’s unofficial badaguai (or “eight weird customs”) declares that noodles must be as wide as a belt, and bowls are no different from basins.
The Shaanxi food scene in L.A. is coming up, with new restaurants opening in the last few years, so score some roujiamo before everybody else catches on and lines pile up.
Qin West Noodle
Legend has it that thousands of years ago a demon wreaked destruction in Shaanxi, and when it was finally defeated the victors used the demon’s meat in their noodle soup. Since then saozi noodles have been a staple dish in the province. Qin West’s version offers chewy noodles, rich diced pork belly, tofu, potato, and radish, served in broth or dry-style. You won’t have to fight demons to get a bowl, just traffic. 727 N. Broadway, Ste. 111, Chinatown, and 1767 Westwood Blvd, Westwood, http://qinwest.com.
Shaanxi Gourmet customer favorites liangpi (cold noodles) and roujiamo (a meat sandwich often called the Chinese hamburger) are also immensely popular street foods in Xi’an. For good reason, too: liangpi can satisfy both sour and spicy cravings, and the meat in roujiamo is rich but not greasy, and it’s normally stewed with more than twenty different spices. At this restaurant, both are available for $4.50 (each). You can get the liangpi with fragrant sesame sauce, cucumber strips, bean sprouts, chili oil, and vinegar. The roujiamo comes in three options: pork, lamb, or beef that’s cooked for 7 to 8 hours with “lushui,” also called the master sauce, which traditionally imbues meat with the flavors of sugar, star anise, ginger, peppercorns, and more. The mo, or Chinese bread, balances the flavors and keeps your taste buds from being overstimulated. 8518 E. Valley Blvd., Ste. 102, Rosemead. 626-288-9886.
The Big Plate Chicken here features pieces of chicken, brown gravy, loads of potatoes, and bell peppers, all set atop hand-pulled noodles. At $20 it’s a bit pricey, but when you take into account that it could feed at least six people, consider that money well spent. The dish is particularly popular in Shaanxi because of its well-rounded flavors and giant portions, although it’s not originally from the province. So if authenticity is what you’re looking for, the restaurant has that, too: liangpi and paomo (pita bread soaked in beef or lamb soup) are great picks. 18213 E. Gale Ave., City of Industry, 626-965-9000.
This restaurant’s menu boasts mostly Shaanxi foods, as well as lesser-known dishes. Take the traditional Shaanxi dish laowanyu, for example. Although its name is decidedly unappetizing (it literally translates to “old bowl fish”), the appearane of the colorful medley of chili peppers, bean sprouts, fish, and parsley garnish signal to you that it’s going to be a winner. It comes in both non-spicy and mala (numbingly spicy) options, so be sure to order a cool drink if you opt for the latter. 529 E. Valley Blvd., Ste. 178A, San Gabriel, 626-787-5555.
There are ten different types of Shaanxi noodles to choose from here, including the famous wide-as-a-belt biangbiang noodles, which are chewy and accompanied by tender braised meat in preserved sauce. But the underrated winner is huimashi, which are handmade noodles the size of your thumb that resemble cat ears. They come with a steaming and flavorful tomato and egg soup. If that isn’t enough to transport you to Xi’an, then you’ll be pleased by the two terracotta warriors literally greeting you at the front door. 127 N Garfield Ave., Ste. Y, Monterey Park, 91754, 626-802-5966.