Once upon a time, I wanted to eat at Xi’an Famous Foods in the East Village. The day I was planning on going I saw online that they were temporarily closing for renovations. Heart. broken.
Okay, but for real, I’m one of those people who looks forward to every meal and since I had my heart set on eating some supposedly amazing hand-pulled noodles that were also super cheap, of course I was going to be a little disappointed. Disappointed, heart broken…same difference, right?
Well, fast forward a few months and another situation came up where I was going to meet some friends over by Rockefeller Plaza and we were trying to decide where to get a cheap dinner beforehand and tada! I remembered! There was another Xi’an Famous Foods location in Midtown! I had forgotten all about the place while waiting for the renovation to be completed, and just like that it popped back on my radar right when I needed it again. Thanks Xi’an.
Xi’an Famous Foods is a small, often crowded, cash only place where you’re instructed numerous times that the TAKEOUT NOODLES WILL NOT TASTE AS GOOD AS FRESH ONES. Yeah, they put it in all caps too. They explain that when the noodles cool down, which can take up to only 15 minutes, they will “congeal and bloat” and the sauce will therefore soak into the noodles causing a loss of flavor and chewiness and leaving only oil. Pretty intense right? Well they also go on to say that first time diners are HIGHLY encouraged to have their food in the store, even if it’s just a bite, to know what it’s supposed to taste like to “avoid false first impressions.” Can you tell that these people pride themselves in their noodles?? Their notice, which I forgot to mention says “WARNING” in big red letters, ends with them saying, “This is just food chemistry that we cannot do anything about. Thanks for understanding.” Wow. What a build-up to a meal, huh?
While Xi’an offers a variety of cold noodles, burgers, and soups (all presented with their own photo on the wall for reference), I think their hand-pulled noodles are their specialty, and of that the spicy cumin lamb flavor is the most famous. So, that’s what I ordered!
To be honest, I haven’t had many dishes in my life that have focused on either cumin or lamb so I was excited for this one. When you order, you’re asked how spicy you want your dish and I just said “medium” at the advice of a friend who had been here before. She told me not to worry, it would still be spicy.
Yeah, yeah, I did in fact take my food to-go, sans pre-bite, but we walked to an outdoor seating area close by, and quickly I might add, so I don’t think too much damage was done by then. The noodles were thick and wonderfully QQ, which is a phrase I just recently learned. “QQ” is a Chinese way of describing the desirable chewy or bouncy texture in things like fish balls or tapioca pearls, and that’s really the best way I can describe these. The cumin and lamb both provided a deep, exotic flavor to the dish, and while lamb can sometimes get too gamey, it was treated right here and worked perfectly with the noodles. And yes, medium, was spicy enough for me. I mean it DEFINITELY was spicy enough when I was eating too fast because I was enjoying it so much and accidentally inhaled some spices and had a minor coughing attack. Worth it.
I can’t wait to try some of the other dishes they have, and with everything on the menu being $10 or less, it’s totally doable. I’ll take getting a meal for $7.50 any day.
Spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles
24 W 45th St
New York, NY 10036