By Dane Feldman
Photos by Dane Feldman.
Xi’an Famous Foods has seven locations in New York with three more opening soon. This review is based on the St. Mark’s Place location in the East Village.
I checked the website for the exact location before I visited Xi’an and the very first text is a pop-up that reads, “Food tastes best when fresh from the kitchen. When hot noodles cool down, they get bloated, mushy, and oily. If you must take your noodles to go, please at least try the noodles in the store or right out of the to-go containers when it’s handed to you, so you can get the best possible Xi’an Famous Foods experience.”
I thought, How fresh could this place possibly be? Turns out very. I ordered N9 (pork “Zha Jiang” hand-ripped noodles) and F4 (spicy and sour lamb dumplings) to share with one other person. The noodles and dumplings were fresher than I had ever tasted. The flavors in these dishes are fantastic, but quite vinegar-forward, which I enjoy but some may not.
Ordinarily, I tend not to comment much on price, but Xi’an’s prices are so extraordinarily low that it seems necessary. The dumplings (seven altogether) were $7 and the noodles were also $7. The most expensive items on the menu are $10, which includes stewed oxtail.
Some of the cheapest items on the menu include the popular stewed pork burger ($3) and the spicy cumin lamb burger ($3.50).
But Xi’an Famous Foods is known best for its delicious and fresh noodles. In fact, Xi’an is highly rated anywhere you look and was even featured in Zagat’s best Chinese food restaurants in NYC last year. This year, it didn’t make the list, but its ratings remained high.
Xi’an Famous Foods does not serve alcohol of any kind, but the spot does offer an array of Xi’an’s own brewed herbal teas as well as canned teas, soft drinks, and bottled water.
The entire nature of Xi’an Famous Foods is focused almost solely on its food. Calling the service “pretty much nonexistent” isn’t too far off from the truth. Patrons order at the counter, receive a number, pick up their food at the counter, and sit (read: hopefully squeeze) in one of the 13 seats available (read: probably not available).
But what is so charming about Xi’an Famous Foods is that, although it receives just about as much press as a hole-in-the-wall-style restaurant in NYC possibly can, it remains completely authentic and wholly humble. The prices remain so low they might as well give the food away, the menu is still posted on the wall, and the food is unwavering.
If you can’t be bothered with the hustle and bustle of Chinatown (though Xi’an does have a location there as well), this is the spot.