Not that long ago, it was difficult to source hand-pulled noodles in the San Gabriel Valley. While still not a common find, hand-pulled noodles have popped up on the menus of a few restaurants that have opened in recent years. But one famous version has been elusive in the SGV: Lanzhou-style lamian.
Hailing from Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu Province in northwest China, the noodles are among the country's most famous and can be traced back to the early 20th century, when a Hui man named Ma Baozi sold the hot soup noodles topped with beef cubes on the streets of Lanzhou. He eventually opened his own restaurant in 1919 and spawned thousands of other beef noodle restaurants, which today have made the dish a local specialty.
While these working-class noodles has been available for years at Malan in Hacienda Heights, aside from a relatively brief stint at a Dongbei-Sichuan restaurant in Monterey Park they’ve been notably absent from the Valley's western half. That changed last month when China Tasty in Alhambra rebooted as a Lanzhou hand-pulled noodle specialist.
Located in a former bowling alley coffee shop, China Tasty opened last October with a pan-Chinese menu. After its recent revamp, the relatively small, two-sided laminated menu now focuses on seven soup bases. The soup bases include pork, seafood, vegetable and the traditional beef. Here, the signature Lanzhou dish is A1 on the menu: House Special Beef Noodle Soup. Choose one of four noodle sizes — standard round, small flat, medium flat or triangle noodle — then sit back and enjoy the show.
A large window allows you to peer into the kitchen and watch the skilled noodle makers as they fold, pull, pound and stretch the dough. It’s easily the best food-related show in the San Gabriel Valley, especially since the closure of nearby Bamboodles, which had its noodle maker ride a large bamboo pole.
The soup arrives in a large bowl with thin slices of beef, cilantro and a few slices of a large turnip. The broth is “clear," which is to say lighter than other beef noodle soups in China. Some will decry it as bland, but they’re missing the point. This isn’t meant to be the dark brown, soy sauce–seasoned broth of Taiwanese beef noodle soup, niu rou mian. It is meant to be light, like Yunnan’s famous Crossing the Bridge Noodles.
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SHOW ME HOW
Add a small amount of black vinegar and crushed chilis, both provided tabletop, and then stir and enjoy. Too much else would detract from its essence. China Tasty's noodles have the perfect chewiness, the right "Q," in parlance. With knife-shaved noodles also available, China Tasty is the only place in the San Gabriel Valley to watch both kinds of handmade noodles being prepared.
China Tasty, 1308 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 457-8483.