It’s tough not to succumb to the allure of the hole-in-the-wall: the dank, olfactory-assaulting closet of a low-key gem of a restaurant pretty much dares you to try their food. They almost say to you: “What, are you really that afraid of food poisoning that you aren’t going to try our handmade, tongue-burning, top-yelp rated noodles? Then get outta here!”
That’s kind of the vibe I got when I first stepped foot into Xi’an last year. Being a Flushing-area native my whole life, I’m used to questionable whiffs of urine and rotting food when I walk through the streets, which is usually accompanied by some sludge-like water runoff in the mini-potholed corners of the sidewalk. I had heard of Golden Mall— the place where my mom promised I would find some cheap vegan food— “It’s just a little dirty and smelly, but the food is fine.” Mother knows best!
Golden Mall is literally a place that is “underground.” A bit off the side of Main Street and across from Flushing library, this extremely chinky (yeah, I said it) crawl space is jam-packed with competing noodle shops, dumpling stalls and even Asian porno stores. Lo mein with cream pie for dessert, please!
Dirty jokes aside, there’s one standout stall that has the blessing of food critics (not that I care) and the press alike: Xi’an Famous Foods. I know this because they practically hammer it into your head when you walk into their space. The NYT, WSJ and other “notable” pubs have written this faux-humble eatery up, and it’s plastered from the top to the bottom of the tiny shop, right next to the all-picture, straightforward menu. There’s also a small flat screen on the side of the resto that blasts the same Food Network video loop over and over (I guess it’s good that the workers barely know English then!). I should have known a place that has the word “famous” in its name wouldn’t be so modest.
First off, Xi’an is not strictly vegan. They do serve meat, so devout vegans would probably not feel comfortable here. Though comfort is not this joint’s priority, since it’s all stainless steel digs and 99 cent stools if you care to eat in.
Also, since their noodles are made on the spot, it’s best to eat the food immediately… but like I said, the eating area is super dingy. I did do take out the very first time I went because it was just too stinky in there for me, and it was fine after sitting in there for approx. 5 minutes or so.
I chose the Mount Qi Vegetable Hand-Ripped Noodles for my meal. I actually ordered it with soup, but I think my cashier didn’t hear that part and made it a regular noodle plate instead. Ah well.
Mount Qi Vegetable Hand-Ripped Noodles: $6.00
This dish is number N5 on the menu, and like all the other dishes at Xi’an, is made fresh to order. You can literally see the lady behind the counter smacking the noodle dough as you order– it’s quite the satisfying sound.
The noodles all have an irregular, thick shape due to the fact that they are handpulled. This makes them super tender, slippery and easy to eat– not to mention quite tasty. After being cooked, Xi’an douses the noodles in their own brown broth, which from what I can make out takes like a traditional mix of soy sauce, star anise, hot chili pepper oil and black pepper. They also have stewed pieces of white radish, wheat gluten, tomato, white cabbage and lotus root in the sauce, which is combined with chopped scallion, celery and chives at serving time. It’s then slapped onto a dixie styrofoam plate and served hastily on their countertop. Hao Tzi!
I liked that there was a bit of heat to this dish, which leaves your tongue slightly tingly and numb after chewing. The neutral taste of the noodles is an excellent base for the standout element of the dish—the thinly-sliced stewed wheat gluten, which always makes me do a double take when I see it since it does look like meat. No worries though—it’s all veggie! Just be careful if you’re wearing white when you eat, since noodle slurpage yields high amount of sauce splashage.
Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles: $4.50/$4.75
This was the first dish I tried when I first visited Xi’an. It’s also their bestselling dish— no doubt because it’s one of the cheapest. A bit different from the hand-pulled variation, these noodles seem thinner and like they’re made out of mung bean flour instead of wheat. The slippery suckers are also drenched in Xi’an’s famous broth, except without the addition of veggies, but the savory gluten pieces, refreshing bean sprouts and sliced cucumber elevated it to perfectly palate-pleasing. This dish is at best an appetizer— it’s definitely tasty but won’t fill you up in the least. Still a good buy for when you’re in between meals.
Spicy Hot Oil Seared Hand-Ripped Noodles: $6.25/6.50
Hot food lovers rejoice! This super-spicy melange of house-made noodles definitely hit the spot for me. The noodles are the same type as used in the stir-fried version above, and they go great with the intensely hot, oily sauce it’s bathed in. I wouldn’t eat this all the time since it is very oily—but for those rainy, soggy days where you need a kick in the taste buds to wake you up, it’s perfect.
Quick tip – buy a Lemon Dunk drink from Coco a few blocks away to flush this sucker down easy. Sugar and spice, dizzyingly nice!