There is one restaurant that single-handedly attempts to dismantle my goal of eating through every restaurant in Chinatown on a regular basis. It’s also one of the few I’ve ever been to that stays with you weeks after you’ve finished eating there. You might recall Xi’An Famous Foods from our piece on the Golden Mall in Flushing last year (Xi’An owns a stall there). If not from us, you may have heard chef and television host Anthony Bourdain preach endlessly about it, and for good reason.
Its roots in Western China make the menu (and its flavors) one of the most unique in New York. Unfortunately, thanks to MTA’s vendetta against anyone who lives in Queens, the 7 train is almost never running regularly on the weekends, making a trip to Flushing’s Golden Mall all but impossible. Luckily, though, Xi’An’s reach has now extended into Manhattan or, for our purposes, Chinatown. But would it stack up against its Flushing homebase?
If Xi’An makes it almost impossible for me to try new restaurants in Chinatown, the Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger, a staple of the restaurant, makes it just as difficult to try anything else on Xi’An’s menu. If you’re a man who considers himself just so (or the woman’s equivalent), order one extra spicy. Cumin-spiced lamb is sauteed with jalapenos, scallions and onions and served on a hard roll pressed and warmed perfectly. At just $3.00, you’ve no reason not to try what I believe is the single best dish you’ll discover in Chinatown. Pair it with a Sour Hawberry Tea ($1.50) to help rinse out your mouth flames.
It’s not all about lamb, though. Xi’An’s pork dishes are often overlooked (or, at the very least, overshadowed), a careless error. Try the stewed pork noodles to explore the restaurant’s other extraordinary talent: hand-pulled noodles.Stretched and slapped repeatedly against a counter in a kitchen below Xi’An’s floorboards, the dish won’t travel up the restaurant’s old dumbwaiter to your table until the noodles are flawlessly chewy. The dish, while not as spicy as the lamb burger, still maintains a delicious kick (Xi’An knows the spice game better than anyone), while the chives and cabbage provide a welcome balance.
While the environment may be completely different than its counterpart in Flushing (after all, you’ll never hear Dr. Dre in the Golden Mall), the food, thankfully, has not changed one bit during its journey on the 7 and 6 trains to Chinatown. Over the course of my culinary tours of Chinatown, I’ve learned that you can almost always find three or four restaurants who do the same thing, and do them in the same ways. Except Xi’An. To this day, I’ve found nothing that can compare in any way to the restaurant’s incredible menu.
I’ve always scoffed at the notion that restaurant owners have secret family recipes that are impossible to mimic (I’m looking at you, Olive Garden), but Xi’An’s is truly unique in every way. If you haven’t had the chance to experience it, head down to Bayard street and get it over with. I promise you’ll understand why Xi’An has nearly ruined my Sunday in Chinatown outings several times (in a “wait, let’s just go here instead” kind of way).