Xi’an Famous Foods
81 St Marks Pl
(between 2nd Ave & 1st Ave)
New York, NY 10003
This, my friends, is my go-to weekday spot when I don’t feel like cooking and want something delicious and cheap. Xi’an is a city in China in the Shaanxi province that is fairly centrally located. Its cuisine therefore is heavily influenced by all regions of China, especially Sichuan for its spiciness and numbing flavors. As the first capital of China and the start of the Silk Road, Xi’an cuisine is also influenced by Middle Eastern cuisine. Hence, you’ll see a lot of cumin-flavored meats… I always get three things at Xi’an: a noodle dish, a burger, and a tofu dish.
Pictured here is the Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles ($4.50). This is a very traditional dish that originated in Xi’an. The noodles are made from rice and are served cold with cucumber, bean sprouts, cilantro, and chewy tofu/bean curd pieces. The sauce is garlicy, sweet, sour, spicy, and tingly all at the same time. It honestly is an explosion of flavors and textures. The noodles are very springy and chewy, which pair very well with the crisp cucumbers. The cucumbers, bean sprouts, and cilantro add a bit of freshness to the spicy and oily sauce. I always, ALWAYS get this in the summer because it is light and refreshing, especially compared to Xi’an Famous Food’s other noodles… I took my dad here when he came to visit and he thought that this was even better than what we get in Beijing. He’s from Xi’an, so he would know.
The other noodles are all hand-pulled noodles. There is quite a variety of flavors, my favorites being the Spicy Cumin Lamb, Spicy Hot Oil Seared, and the Pork “Zha Jiang” noodles. These noodles are made with flour and are hand pulled to a tremendously chewy texture. They are wide and flat, equivalent of a pappardelle pasta. As you can see, the noodle dishes are saucy as hell. You can generally adjust the level of spiciness though don’t go asking for zero spice because it just isn’t going to happen. They pride themselves in serving authentic Chinese food and will only cater to your weak buds to a small extent. Honestly, if you can’t handle it, you should just force yourself to eat spice more often and you’ll soon appreciate it, I promise.
Here is a less spicy version of the Pork “Zha Jiang” noodles. Still delicious but I definitely prefer more spice. The chili that they use is just like what my Sichuan grandmother taught me to make. You essentially heat up oil so that it is searing hot and toss in chili powder and flakes so that you fry the chilies. The result is an extremely aromatic and tasty spicy sauce…
Xi’an Famous Foods offers two kinds of burgers: the Stewed Pork Burger ($2.50) and the Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger ($3.00). Both are traditional to Xi’an cuisine and actually originated during the Qin dynasty from 221 B.C. to 206 B.C. According to Wikipedia, it is possibly the world’s oldest burger/sandwich known.
I go back and forth as to which one I like better because they are very different. Left is the stewed pork version. The pork is juicy, tender, and full of flavor but has zero spice. The lamb, on the other hand, has all kinds of spices in it, including cumin. It’s also sauteed with onions and peppers which helps to add a little natural sweetness. I actually don’t even like lamb, especially lamb that tastes super gamey and lamby. The cumin really helps to hide that gamey flavor. This is probably the only lamb dish I truly enjoy. The bread itself is half the reason why these burgers are so good. They are quite flavorless and dense, kind of like a bagel. The crust is just slightly crisp and the center bread part is just slightly chewy. They are also pretty dry… which soaks up juices of the flavor packed meats.
And last but not least, the Chang-An Spicy Tofu. It is another famous Xi’an dish that Sichuan also has. It is made with extremely soft tofu. You could probably just slurp it all up with a straw if you really wanted to. The tofu sits in a light soup of chili oil, soy sauce, cilantro, and pickled mustard plant. I like the Sichuan version a bit more because they add peanuts. Nonetheless, this is a very local Chinese dish that is often eaten on the streets, at home, and in restaurants. Really a Chinese staple that I have not found in very many restaurants here in the US. Now that it’s readily available right in St. Marks, I get it every time I visit Xi’an Famous Foods.
People always ask me what my favorite Chinese restaurant is in the city and I always have a hard time giving them an answer other than Xi’an Famous Foods. It is definitely one of the most authentic Chinese restaurants in the city. This and Henan Flavor are my favorites. Joe’s Shanghai (or Joe’s Ginger) is another restaurant that I frequent though it really isn’t as great as people make it out to be. Someone, please introduce me to a good Sichuan place because I am just dying for some Shui Zhu Yu (Sichuan Spicy Boiled Fish). Grand Sichuan doesn’t cut it. I will blog about my Grand Sichuan experience sometime this week.