When it comes to the range and diversity of regional Chinese cuisines, the San Gabriel Valley is an embarrassment of riches. This extends to regional cuisines not even well known within China. With the opening last month of Lao Xi Noodle House in Arcadia, the SGV's offerings grew to include a small selection of dishes from Shanxi Province that we haven’t yet seen.
Located in north-central China, Shanxi Province is more than 500 miles west of Beijing and shouldn’t be confused with Shaanxi Province, which borders Shanxi to the west. Shanxi cuisine is known for its wide variety of noodles, aged vinegar and use of potatoes. Lamb is the most popular meat, trailed by pork.
While there have been a couple of Shanxi-style places in the Valley for years, most notably the popular little knife-cut-noodle spot JTYH in Rosemead, Lao Xi — which translates as “old west” — goes deeper into Shanxi-style items. Lao Xi's owner says Shanxi Province is known for “thousands of noodles,” and that’s probably not much of an exaggeration. Knife-cut noodles — dao xiao mian — are available here, but it’s the noodles made from other flours and starches that set Lao Xi apart.
The menu is small, just 27 items including four dumpling variations, but features Shanxi-style specialties under “House Special.” The “Buckwheat ‘Guang Chang’ Delicacies” are buckwheat flour noodles, which differ from the better-known Japanese soba primarily in their thickness, shape and presentation. They’re served with bean sprouts and a few scallions and dried peppers.
If you’re familiar with mung bean jelly – liang fen – noodles made from bean starch, then you’ll find Hun Yuan Cold Jelly similar yet distinctive. A popular street food sold from carts in Shanxi, it arrives in a large bowl with sliced cucumber, sesame paste, dried chili paste, oil, minced garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts and large, translucent white chunks made from potato starch instead of bean starch. Originating from a city and county in the northern part of the province, the potato starch sets the dish apart from liang fen both in flavor and texture. Despite Shanxi cuisine being famous for its use of aged vinegar, this dish is far less vinegary than most liang fen.
Perhaps one of the most surprising dishes is listed as “Lao Xi’er Fried Vegetables Mixed With Flour (Bo Lan Zi).” It turns out to be a Chinese regional version of home fries, only using shredded potatoes instead of cubes and substituting dried red pepper for green and red bell peppers — and using sesame oil. Egg, some shreds of wood ear mushroom and sesame seeds are included. The end result could not be more familiar, yet it's still unique.
Buckwheat flour “Cat’s Ears Noodles (Mao er Duo)” served in a lamb soup, and a lamb soup with black vinegar, are a couple of the other Shanxi specialties available at what's one of the most interesting SGV openings of 2015.
Lao Xi Noodle House, 600 E. Live Oak Ave., Arcadia; (626) 348-2290.