Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Noodle Dream: Xi'an Famous Foods

TL;DR: ★★★☆☆

Yummy and reasonably priced hand-pulled noodles but nothing spectacular. Cramped space and no water (only bottled water); not the best for dining in (but then again, they have a warning sign that says if you get the food to go, it won't taste as good, so ... we're just screwed).

Food/drink:  ★★★☆☆
Ambiance: ★★☆☆☆
Staff: ★★★☆☆

Price: $
Number of visits: 2

 Courtesy of Kung Fu Panda Wiki

Have you had your noodle dream yet?! 

(...Kung Fu Panda, anyone?)

For a lot of people, Xi'an Famous Foods certainly seems like their noodle dream — but not necessarily for me. Conveniently located (for East Villagers like me) right on St. Marks Pl. and 1st Ave., with several other locations in Manhattan and Flushing, this tiny space has received so many reviews and awards for its quick, tasty and cheap traditional Chinese noodle dishes.

So, of course, I had to see what all the hype was about.

I went on a Monday night (around 6:30 or 7, I would say), and the immediate thought that crossed my mind was that the place was so packed and small. There was, not surprisingly, a long line to the cashier and about eight to 10 seats total, with the menu sprawled across the wall on the left.

At first glance at the menu, you can see that everything here is very affordable, with items ranging from $2.50 (for their "burgers," which are kind of a cross between an arepa and a pork bun) to $9.75 (for oxtail or lamb dishes). On average, an entree is about $5-6, which is awesome, especially since they're very generous with the portions as well.

Keep in mind that you do get what you pay for, though. Sure, the noodles are delicious and bursting with flavor, but there's no way you won't feel guilty about eating them afterwards (maybe unless you fall right into a food coma before even having the chance to reflect on what you just consumed) because of the pool of grease in which the noodles are drowning. As I was eating my Concubine's Chicken noodles, I could not help but think, "Damn, this stuff can't be good for you."

Also, and this is me being very picky again, it kind of bothered me — or made me wonder why, rather — that they used plastic plates to serve the food. You'd think for such a successful business, they'd afford to get some real plates, no? Not entirely sure why they haven't done so (perhaps to save money and time on hiring dishwashers), but it was something that made the place a bit less appealing to me.

The biggest beef — no pun intended — I had about this place, though, was that they didn't have water available for their dine-in customers, only bottled water for purchase. My friend and I were parched after nomming on our noodles as anybody would be from all the spices and salt in the food. Maybe this is a marketing technique to bring in more sales ... which I guess is a smart idea, but damn, it's not like I'm asking for Evian or some fancy sparkling water.

OK, now for some comments about the food: As I said, the food is great, especially considering the price. Every bite of my Concubine's Chicken noodles were packed with flavor and had an interesting medley of spices — EXCEPT for whenever I encountered an overly thick noodle. Now, hand-pulled noodles are awesome; they give off a nice, homey feel to the meal as if they came out straight from your mom's kitchen, and I appreciate the effort that goes into arduously making them. However, biting into an overly floury, 1-inch thick noodle, which obviously will not have much flavor at all to it, is not too pleasant. Of course, I don't want to be a bitch and say that they should make sure the noodles are more consistent in size ... but ... I'd ... I'd like that. >__>

But other than the occasional super-thick noodle and pool of grease, (I feel like I need to redeem myself for talking too much trash about this place), the food is pretty much perfection. The chicken was cooked perfectly — very tender, with the meat falling right off the bone — the noodles were (mostly) soft but al dente, and the stir-fried cabbage was very light and refreshing and a good change in texture from the rest of the ingredients.

I'd definitely go back here for a quick and wallet-friendly bite but probably wouldn't dine in or make it a regular thing (thinking of you, arteries ♥). I guess I'll just have to take my chances with the supposedly less fresh take-out noodles next time.


  1. definitely not healthy food but some of the dishes are damn tasty, lamb burger and anything with spicy and tingly in it. If you're looking for some tasty and super cheap hand pulled noodles, check out sheng wang on eldridge. Get the knife pulled noodles stir fried with egg and bok choy and cover it in the chili sauce on the table. so where do you stand, you're all over the place with good and bad criticism. Does this place factor into your list when people are asking you for unique cheap eats in the EV?

  2. I just stared blankly at my computer screen for a good five minutes to come up with an answer, but in the end, I think I would recommend Xi'An, especially if someone's looking for a "unique" place. The noodles here are definitely not what you'll find at any old Chinese take-out, and I think they're a good way to get a taste of some traditional Western Chinese food.

    Oh, and thanks for the recommendation! I'll have to add it to my (way-too-long) list of places to try :)