Cold sesame noodles are often considered more snack than meal in Chinese cuisine -- fast and accessible. At most restaurants in town, there's one general style: noodles, typically thin, with julienned cucumbers and a variation of a sauce heavy on sesame paste, punctuated by splashes of minced garlic, soy, vinegar and red chili oil. It's often simply and matter-of-factly referred to as cold noodles, or liang mian in Mandarin. A mention of shredded chicken, if served, might work its way into the name; otherwise, you'll be hard-pressed to even find a reference to 'sesame.'
Cold sesame noodles tends to be presented like a DIY craft kit and, depending on the restaurant, varying in levels of customization with ingredients layered and flavor components arranged in smaller containers to the side. It's a dish made for summer, cool to taste and warm in flavor, which is even better on boiling hot days. Turn the page for three great versions in West San Gabriel Valley.
A departure from other restaurants, there are three variations of cold noodles -- all of them made with hand-rolled noodles cooked to a 'Q' (the Taiwanese notion of al dente, and co-opted in Mandarin). We're told by a server that the head cook has spent some time in Taiwan; although, a sizable menu section dedicated Taiwan-style dishes will have already informed you that much. Still, the restaurant identifies its style as Shanxi and it's evident in a heavier use of vinegar, a favored condiment in the province, in the cold sesame chicken noodles known as shredded chicken cold noodle here. The noodles come in a large bowl, covered with cucumber, shredded chicken and cilantro. Though served with no small amount of sesame paste and minced garlic, the flavoring might still be on the lighter side -- at which point, you'll just reach for some soy sauce or salt on the condiment tray that's available on every table. Portions are bigger than what'd you find elsewhere, enough to feed two. 9537 Las Tunas Dr., Temple City; (626) 309-4318.
88 Beef Noodle is an unlikely place to find cold sesame chicken noodles -- or cold noodle plate with chicken, as it's called on the menu. At most of the occupied tables, you'll see a bowl of house beef noodle soup. We ordered both and found that the cold noodles just might outshine the namesake dish in taste. It's a colorful plate with the addition of blanched bean sprouts, julienned carrots, and a slim egg-only omelette sliced into strips, arranged next to noodles topped with a larger shred of chicken than you'll find at New Mandarin Noodle Deli and chopped scallions. The noodles come already dressed, in a blend of peanut butter, sesame paste and Sichuan peppercorn oil. The latter is distinct, bringing forth the other elements in the sauce. It's a touch not frequently seen in other versions in surrounding neighborhoods. 1045 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; (626) 446-0188.
If you order both dan dan noodles and vegetable cold noodles, the server will kindly advise you that the former is like a hot version of the latter. Compared side by side, the cold noodles impress more (the dan dan noodles drown in sauce). The dish is prepackaged and comes to the table soon after you've put in an order, even better for a quick pick-up on your way to the beach. Dai Ho Restaurant makes a simple, but fine-tuned version of cold sesame noodles. The noodles are thinner than most, like spaghettini, and garnished with little else than finely sliced cucumbers. The sauce is broken down into three parts -- minced garlic, red chili oil and sesame paste mixed with soy sauce -- in containers sized according to the amount used. The portions are well-measured; take the healthy pour of chili oil, intimidating to some at first. You'll find though that the heat from the chili oil is pleasant, not overpowering, a slight hum that will hover at the sides of your tongue. 9148 Las Tunas Dr., Temple City; (626) 291-2295.
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