A bowl of freshly made noodles, possessing the perfect density and chewiness, is one of the great joys of dining in the San Gabriel Valley. Although finding noodles in the SGV has long been easy, finding freshly made, hand-pulled or knife-shaved noodles — the specialties of the provinces of Northern China — wasn’t always a cinch. As recently as five years ago, you could count the places on one hand and still have a couple of digits free. Since we published this great list in 2012, however, a lot has changed — with six restaurants featuring hand-pulled or knife-shaved noodles opening in 2015 alone.
A little background. Noodles are found across China, and every region has its own variants. Basically, this can be broken down to rice noodles in the south and wheat (mian) in the north (a wide range of other flours are used as well, but more on that later). It's those wheat noodles from the provinces across northern China (Xinjiang, Gansu, Henan, Shaanxi, Shanxi) that we’re focusing on — specifically the knife-shaved noodles (dao xiao mian) that originated in Shanxi Province and are made by shaving a chunk of kneaded dough with a small blade, and the hand-pulled noodles (la mian) from Gansu’s capital city of Lanzhou, which are made exactly like you’d think: by stretching and pulling the dough.
Here are 10 places to explore the art of noodling, plus a few honorable mentions.
This is one of the few if only places in America where one can roll a few frames in a bowling alley and then sit down at the adjacent diner to a bowl of Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodles. The glassed, open kitchen space provides the best food-related show in the SGV as the noodle master prepares your knife-shaved or hand-pulled noodles to order. You can get them stir-fried with meat and/or vegetables or in a soup with beef, lamb or beef offal, though the classic Lanzhou-style is a clear broth with thin slices of beef. The big plate chicken (da pan ji) comes atop a bed of dense, hand-shaved noodles. 1308 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 457-8483.
Kam Hong Garden
A Shanxi-style noodle place with 50 varieties of noodles of all types: hand-kneaded, hand-pulled and knife-shaved, ranks Kam Hong Garden as one of the most versatile and comprehensive noodle restaurants in the SGV. 848 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; (626) 280-9318.
Lao Xi Noodle House
Opened in August, Lao Xi — which translates to Old West — is run by a couple from Shanxi Province. We’ve written about their deeper menu of Shanxi-style dishes but not about their dao xiao noodles. The House Special Fried Noodle with Fried Boiled Pork (Dao Xiao-style) comes with chopped pork loin, wood ear mushrooms, garlic, ginger, scallions and a dose of Shanxi black vinegar. A vegetarian version is also available, as is springy mao er duo, or cat’s ear noodle, which is similar to Italian orecchiette and served here using buckwheat flour for the noodles in a lamb soup. 600 E. Live Oak Ave., Arcadia; (626) 348-2290.
A remnant of a once rapidly growing Taiwanese food chain, this Monterey Park spot reinvented itself with an operator and chef from Henan Province. In the time since we wrote about their lamb-intensive menu, they’ve dropped almost all of the Taiwanese items. Of note here: You can get both Shaanxi and Xinjiang-style noodles. Perfect for cooler weather is the Signature Lamb Noodle soup with its lengthy strand of “mile long” noodle(s). If you’re in the southeast part of the county, they also have a location in Artesia. 788 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; (626) 282-8238.
A branch of a Chinese chain of Lanzhou-style beef noodle soup specialists, Malan features your choice of seven different noodle shapes and sizes. As per the other places, noodles come either stir-fried or in a soup. Their specialty is their Lanzhou-style beef noodle soup. It's also the only other spot (see: China Tasty) where you can watch your noodles being made. 2020 S. Hacienda Blvd., Hacienda Heights; (626) 369-5602.
This wonderfully named stall opened in the Pacific Plaza food court this past July. While we aren’t aware of any Irish-Chinese connection, the familiarity of the logo and menu proved it to be a branch of Rosemead’s popular JTYH. A student of JTYH chef Shi Peng is the regular noodle master at O’Heavy, but sometimes chef Peng drops by. Whether by student or master, the dao xiao mian can only be described as thick and rustic as all get out. The menu features 32 noodle items in soups, stir-fried or dry, all done either knife-shaved or hand-made. 8457 E. Colima Rd., Rowland Heights; (626) 965-6988.
Omar (a.k.a. Omar's Xinjiang Halal)
The first Uighur-style restaurant in the SGV, Omar opened in 2010 and features cuisine from the northwestern region of Xinjiang. Befitting a predominantly Muslim population, the halal menu skews lamb-centric, though there also is "Big Plate Chicken." Lag man, winding lengths of hand-pulled noodles, shows exactly how much the cuisine of the far west of China has in common with Afghan and Uzbeki cuisine. 1718 New Ave., San Gabriel; (626) 570-9778.
When Shaanxi Gourmet opened in 2011, it quickly established itself as an SGV favorite for its fare from the provincial capital of Xi’An. Cumin lamb “burgers” and yang rou pao mo (lamb with pita bread in soup) captured much of the attention, but their biang biang noodles — belt-width, dense and chewy — are among 17 noodle items available at either their original Rosemead location or their Arcadia location, which opened in September. 8518 E. Valley Blvd., Rosemead; (626) 288-9886. 921 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; (626) 445-7662.
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Despite having the most limited noodle menu of our list (just four items!), Sweethome Grill has been a favorite since its 2012 opening. That’s due to a veteran chef from Henan Province overseeing and prepping lengthy, thick noodles that pair perfectly with a hearty, deep lamb or beef broth in what must be the ideal winter dish in the SGV. Open from 3:30 pm to 3:00 am, it's a great late-night spot. 402 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 288-0099.
Xi’An Kitchen: Imitation is the sincerest form of restaurateuring in the SGV. Need proof? City of Industry's Xi’An Kitchen replicated the entire Shaanxi Gourmet menu to serve Northern Chinese fare to those on the east side of the SGV. Look for an almost identical menu of Xi’An street foods, including the wide biang biang noodles, here drizzled with pepper oil, among a wide selection of hand-made noodles and, of course, big plate chicken. Xi'An Kitchen proves there’s nothing wrong with imitation, so long as you do it well. 18213 E. Gale Ave., City of Industry; (626) 965-9000.
Honorable Mention: Shaanxi Garden, Xi an Tasty for Shaanxi-style, Silk Road Garden for Xinjiang-style.