>> Lao Xi'er Noodle House 老西儿 | Eat the World Los Angeles

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Lao Xi'er Noodle House 老西儿

CHINA 🇨🇳
(SHANXI)
The tattoos take place next door.

[COVID-19 UPDATE: The restaurant is still doing pickup/takeout orders exclusively, and for now does not seem to have plans to have outdoor dining.]

When transliterated to English at least, the Chinese provinces of Shanxi and Shaanxi are easy to mix up for those that have not spent time eating in both places. In Chinese, the characters for Shan and Shaan are different completely, while the sounds they make are just different in tone. The cuisines of these neighboring provinces though could not be more different.
 
While Shaanxi foods are spicier and use chili oils quite heavily, in Shanxi province, there are many more stir fry noodle dishes and they often use homemade vinegar that is famous throughout all of China.

If you are not looking, the restaurant would be easy to miss at the end of its strip mall. The biggest characters outside are in English and just say Noodle House, right beside the next door Tattoo. Most people were picking up orders they had already placed, but even orders made right there only took 10-12 minutes despite being warned for 15.

Most everything is prepared on the spot, including the noodles, so it is all worth the wait regardless. One dish to dip your toes into the waters of Shanxi vinegar is the cold noodle with sesame sauce ($8.58, above), which is light and tart instead of the gloppy sweetness you usually find from the corner Chinese takeout.

Go further into the Shanxi vinegar world with hun yuan ($5.98, above) a dish consisting of "cold jelly"made from potato starch. If this is your first time sampling it but have had other jellies made from other starches, both the texture and flavor will come as a surprise.
 
The nice thing about a takeout exclusive world is that they give you an ample portion of the vinegar-sesame paste-chili oil concoction and you can drown the dish if desired. Like the cold noodles above, a bed of thinly sliced cucumbers is laid on top to provide appealing color and texture to each bite.

Veering towards the savory for a moment, try the noodle in lamb soup ($13.51, above and below), using mao er duo noodles, which translates to cat's ears and are given this name because of the shape. These are made from buckwheat and have a delightful way of disintegrating in your mouth when any pressure is applied.

This soup does not slap you in the face with flavor or spice, but is thoroughly comforting and would be even more so on cool evenings. It is lovely. In northern Chinese winters, it must be a godsend.

Another popular dish at Lao Xi'er, and another opportunity to sample the wonders of Shanxi's fermented vinegar is the wife's special noodle with fried pork ($12.47, below). Portions of shredded cucumber, egg and tomato, pork belly, and ground pork with fermented soy all lay upon helao style noodles. These thin tubular noodles are extruded straight into boiling water.

It is not quite as easy to mix this all up in its takeout container as it was in the large serving bowl, so maybe transfer before beginning to do so. No matter which portions you end up with, each bite is full of the flavor of that famous vinegar.

In addition to potatoes, Shanxi cuisine employs a lot of wood ear mushrooms, which also show up in the stunning bowl of house special fried noodle with boiled pork ($12.47, below). This style, another one of many hundreds that originate in Shanxi, is called dao xiao and consists of wide and long meaty knife-cut noodles.

While the noodles shine in the dish, the cuts of meat and vegetables fade to the background. The flavors all come together through spices. If you have to choose one dish to finish and not reheat later, make it this one as the noodles are just not as amazing as they are fresh.


Dao xiao style noodles.

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