When chef Tony Xu opened Chengdu Taste in Alhambra in 2013, it marked a sea change in the San Gabriel Valley's Chinese restaurant scene. Using an elevated quality of ingredients, many imported directly from Sichuan Province, Xu took Sichuan cooking — or more specifically the food from the provincial capital city of Chengdu — to a new level, spawning a rash of imitators and followers and setting the tone for restaurateurs who would adapt Xu's approach to create their own take on other Chinese regional cuisines.
After opening three more Chengdu Taste locations over the past two years (Rosemead, Rowland Heights and Las Vegas), Xu began work on a new concept devoted to Sichuan-style noodles. The final result, Miàn, opened this past week.
Its name the Chinese word for wheat noodle, Miàn is Xu's tribute to the noodles of Chongqing, formerly the Sichuan capital but now a separate municipality. The restaurant features a stripped-down, focused menu of 12 noodle dishes, five chaoshou (dumplings) and eight appetizers. All appear on a stylish menu with photos of the dishes, accompanying info on the spiciness level, whether the items are dry or served in a soup, and individual ingredients for each noodle dish (handy for those wishing to avoid, or not avoid, something). Among the 12 noodle bowls, there are "hot and sour" noodles, a favorite street food in Chengdu, beef noodles, gizzard noodles, seafood noodles, bone soup noodles and two meatless noodle options. You can also customize your bowl with additional toppings, making the possibilities essentially endless.
Two of the more interesting noodle choices are Chengdu and Chongqing versions of zhejiang mian, a noodle dish most associated with Beijing. The Chongqing version, ZaJiang with peas, comes with what's listed as authentic Chongqing beans. A yellow bean paste, which is mild and remarkably non-salty, serves as both a flavor enhancer and a thickener. The noodles themselves are outstanding: thin strands with the perfect chewiness, or "Q" as the sensation is dubbed in Chinese noodle parlance. While the dish has a bit of a chili kick, it's the other dishes — particularly the soups — that bring the real heat. Those looking for the noted ma la effect, that lip-tingling numbing from the use of Sichuan peppercorns, will find it here in some of the noodles and chaoshou.
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Appetizers range from spicy radish and Chengdu pickles, to spicy black fungus or the healthier option, steamed veggies (bok choy). The pickled cabbage would be good enough to stand on its own at most restaurants, and here it arrives for free. If you’ve been to any of the Chengdu Taste locations, you know what to expect: cash only, no alcohol and a nice, distinctive décor. At Miàn, this means flatscreen TVs on the walls might be showing Chinese hip-hop videos while you slurp noodles.
You might also prepare to wait, though only for a short time compared with the infamous waits at the original Chengdu Taste.
Will Chef Xu’s new casual concept of slinging authentic Chongqing-style noodles in the SGV be the same sort of game changer that Chengdu Taste was? At this point and considering his track record, we wouldn’t bet against him.
Miàn, 301 W. Valley Blvd., #114-115, San Gabriel; (626) 693-6888, mian.us.