I’m still not certain how Regina found this place, but it’s pretty damn good! We have been exploring east of Los Angeles for the past year now, scouring the San Gabriel Valley for authentic Chinese and Vietnamese foods. While sometimes we feel like Marco Polo braving the Orient, in truth we’ve hardly scratched the surface of the vast wealth of eateries to be found in Alhambra, Arcadia, San Gabriel, Rosemead, etc. In our expeditions we found some real gems: we’ve absolutely fallen in love with Liang’s Kitchen, Din Tai Fung, Golden Deli, and now 101 Noodle Express.
101 Noodle Express makes excellent food from Shandong, which is a province in the northeast of China. Like lots of great “ethnic” restaurants the place is stuck in an outdated strip mall on a busy main drive, with nothing to give you a clue to fine food found within. The decor is, well, non-existent and the setting is the very definition of nondescript. The service is very friendly but at times AWOL. However, the food is somewhat unusual but accessible, well-made, and absolutely delicious.
|Superb shrimp, pork, and leek dumplings.|
They have several specialties that they’re known for. The rather pedestrian-sounding beef roll is exceptional; I’ve never had anything quite like it. It’s a very large mooshu pancake that is crisped on a large griddle or perhaps in a dry wok. One side of the flatbread is covered with minced green onions, cilantro, hoisin sauce, and a thin coating of chopped cooked beef (perhaps thinly sliced, slow-cooked chuck, but not sure). The whole thing is rolled up like a jelly roll and cut into four pieces. It’s a bit like a big Chinese burrito. Crisp and soft at the same time, sweet and salty, meaty and herbaceous. Damn delicious.
Also fantastic are their unusual, large dumplings made with a rather thick, handmade wrapper filled with all kinds of things — pumpkin, yellow leek, shrimp, lamb, pork, beef, scallops, pickled veggies. The interiors are exceeding juicy and rich in flavor. You can order them boiled or pan-fried. Pan-fried (think potsticker) is definitely the way to go — the chewy softness of the wrapper contrasts nicely with some crispy edges. Regina and I usually get the shrimp, pork, and leek dumplings and they’ve been fantastic every time. However, one visit they ran out of leeks and were substituting just shrimp and pork, which disappointed for sure. I felt they rushed it and the execution of the dumplings was sub-par, not-crispy, slightly undercooked.
|The justly famous beef roll is addictive.|
Whenever we go out for Asian food Regina and I always get 1) cucumbers of some kind and 2) some kind of green. Cucumbers are an obsession of mine, and Regina needs, no requires, greens. The lightly pickled cucumbers are plain but a delicious, soothing way to start the meal. The baby bok choy is perfectly wokked, simply-prepared, and features a ridiculous amounts of sliced garlic. We always need to get some veggies in us as an antidote to the potentially hazardous amounts of meaty, starchy goodness.
|Simple cucumber pickles are pleasant.|
They have two chicken specialties. The exceedingly simple but perfectly moist and tasty De Zhou chicken is crisped in oil and then finished in the steamer. It’s served plain-jane, hacked up on a plate at room temperature. The meat pulls off gently from the bone and is quite tender. It’s very yummy eaten with the two regional condiments offered on the table — a spicy, seedy chili oil and a relish sort of thing made from minced cilantro, minced green chilis (serranos perhaps), and a hit of sesame oil. The robust, herby relish is a lovely accompaniment for the mild chicken.
|De Zhou Chicken is one of their specialties.|
|Regina digs into a chunk of beef roll laced with chili sauce.|
Shan Dong chicken is prepared in a similar fashion but steamed with something very flavorful, I suspect a sweet vinegar with some Sichuan peppercorn in it. The cut-up chicken is laid over a bed of cold cucumbers in a sweetened soy and black vinegar sauce and then topped with fresh cilantro. This chicken is mild, tender, but unlike the De Zhou chicken it’s incredibly…refreshing. Refreshing is not usually a word associated with chicken, but this chicken is just that. The sauce is light and zesty, the cucumbers are cooling, and the chicken is fresh and delicious.
|Shan Dong chicken is uniquely tart and refreshing.|
|Perfectly cooked baby bok choy with lots and lots of garlic.|
|A close-up of that phenomenal beef roll.|
101 Noodle Express is also well-known for their (no shocker) noodles. Chewy, flavorful, unmistakably hand-made, the noodles are excellent. The Hot and Spicy Beef Hand-torn Noodle Soup is a specialty and it’s very good. The fantastic broth is laced generously with star anise and features chunks of tender beef, strips of omelet, seaweed (like wakame) and cilantro. I love handmade noodles for their appealing irregularities — some pieces are thicker, some are softer, some are chewier — making for an fun and rustic eating experience. My only complaint about the beef noodle soup is that it really could have been a lot spicier, especially as it’s billed as Hot and Spicy.
|Hot & Spicy Beef Hand-Torn Noodle Soup|
Less successful is the Dan-Dan Noodles, with uses the same yummy hand-torn noodles in a thick ragu of minced pork, pickled veggies, and loads of Sichuan peppercorn. When I’ve had Dan-Dan Noodles at other places the noodles were slender, almost spaghetti-like in an elegant way, which strikes a pleasing textural balance with the finely minced pork in the sauce. This version was too dense, not spicy enough, and unbalanced. Its scores as comfort food, but didn’t have enough complexity to keep us coming back for more.
|Dan Dan noodles made with hand-cut fresh noodles. Shot through with sichuan peppercorn.|
We do, however, want more beef roll and dumplings. Which means we’ll once again strike out east and visit one of our new favorite destination restaurants, 101 Noodle Express.
|Cecelia and Henry were so jazzed about the food they couldn’t sit still for a photo!|
Alhambra, CA 91801