I’m Obsessed With Xi’an Famous Foods

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It’s true. I can’t get enough of this place. Once a humble little shop in a Flushing food court, this unique Chinese food joint totally went modern, moved into a small but incredibly convenient St. Mark’s place location, and caught the eye of everyone (including Anthony Bourdain, who featured it on his No Reservations show).

I kid you not, the food at XI’AN FAMOUS FOODS (map!) is just magic. This is not hole-in-the-wall stuff, no no no. These are staple dishes of Shaanxi cuisine, featuring a northernwestern Chinese style of cooking. (Xi’an, where the famous terra cotta soldiers are located, for point of reference, is the capital of Shaanxi province). As someone who’s grown up on Cantonese cuisine, this was an amazing revelation. I’ve been begging DH to keep going back with me over and over again, and despite the constant repetition, he hardly ever says no. Thank goodness.

Here’s the usual rundown:

From the Astor Place subway stop, we head east, past the stretch of St. Mark’s full of sunglasses shops, yogurt stands, and greasy kids. We make our way almost to 1st avenue, and the burgundy doorway greets us.

Ta-daaaaa! People will peer inside, wondering if it is good. Have no doubt, it is.

If we’re lucky, there won’t be a line out the door. Lunchtime, dinnertime, and that strange 9:30 p.m. weeknight stretch when all the sad and exhausted white-collar workers are finally released from the office tend to make this place PACKED. Otherwise, this little 12-seater space is pretty manageable. My rule is: bring a date or bring a friend, just don’t bring your whole family.

A tiny shop with a big selection. What will it be?

Since the number of seats are severely limited, there are signs everywhere notifying patrons of the seating etiquette. In short, order first, THEN sit. If someone tries to claim a seat beforehand, they will incur the wrath of veteran customers. (The glare of their laser-beam eyes are physically palpable). Thankfully, the shop clerk is totally on top of it, and will politely but firmly inform offenders that they need to order first. I think everyone gets yelled at the first time, and then everything is fine from then on. And everyone WILL keep coming back.

Onto the food! I get everything “mild”, which is the perfect spice level for me. There are options to choose the level of spiciness when ordering (cash only!), and all the dishes are easily coded by letter and number.

Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles (A1)

I will get this dish every.single.time. Oh, the texture, the chewiness of the noodles and gluten pieces, the perfect blend of cold temperature but spicy flavor. I never want it to end. It’s like doing your taste buds a favor for being so good to you all these years.

Spicy & Tingly Beef Hand-Ripped Noodles (N2)

The second dish will always be one of the “hand-pulled noodle” dishes. I don’t think it’s necessary to get the “in-soup” variations since the noodles and sauce alone are already pretty excellent, but that’s just me. The “spicy and tingly beef” is my favorite, but I will also alternate with “Spicy Cumin Lamb” (N1) (who doesn’t love cumin??), “Stewed Pork” (N4), or the amusingly-named “Concubine’s Chicken” (N6). These noodles are insanely good. The texture, different from the Liang Pi ones but just as good, are firm with the perfect amount of chew but also tastes light and fresh. Of course, it pairs amazingly well with the flavorful and tender meat.

DH and I will get these two dishes and share them. We also split one Stewed Pork Burger, which is just enough food to make us full but not uncomfortably stuffed.

Majestic stewed pork, protected by the bun...

Say AHH! The temptation to devour it in one bite is strong.

The bun is kind of like a grilled bing or mantou, faintly sweet and chewy, which is perfect for soaking up juices from the stewed pork filling. For $2.50 each, it’s a pretty filling item and makes an excellent side dish.

Finally, I have to give credit to the drink. Xi’an Famous Foods serves, among the usual water, sodas, and even jasmine tea, a great “Sour Hawberry Tea” which is the best liquid to wash down spicy food. It’s kind of like raspberry iced tea, only 100 times better. Prior to trying it, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a hawberry! So I’m eating well, AND learning new things.

Ask the cashier, and s/he will poke a hole in the sealed top for you to fit a straw.

For some reason, whenever we eat here, we are always RAVENOUS, so as soon as the food comes, we totally tear into it like wolves. No talking, just eating. It’s tasty carnage.

And even with all the sauce, all the spice, and all the grease, we will NOT be thirsty or totally salt-bloated later. That’s when we know this is real honest-to-goodness food; totally the opposite of questionable lo mein loaded with msg.

And the best part, aside from the food itself, is that all of this only sets us back around $17. Did you read that? $17!!!. So there is no excuse not to give this place a try. Maybe I will see you there.


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