XI’AN FAMOUS FOODS
ADDRESS: 37 W 54th Street, New York, NY 10019
On one of the days that I was back home in NJ over Christmas break, my parents and I ventured out to New York City for an opportunity to check out the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center as well as the various holiday window displays at the department stores. The timing of the train we took into the city got us there right around lunch time, and we thought it’d be best to get some food in the tank before walking around. Enter Xi’an Famous Foods, a spot that we had heard good things about but never got an opportunity to try. That was certainly about to change.
From the sound of it, there are numerous locations of Xi’an Famous Foods all around New York City, but the one that we decided to hit up was the location in midtown Manhattan, not too far from Central Park and Rockefeller Center. It’s a bit smaller from a floorspace perspective, but I will say that it seems they tried to maximize the usage out of it. As a result of that, don’t come expecting to be too comfortable if you’re dining in. There are countertops that run parallel to the length of the restaurant, with fixed stool seats that give just enough width to sit down, elbows at your side, and eat your food. Depending on how crowded it is, you might even need to wait to get multiple seats next to each other.
In lieu of looking through a paper menu, the restaurant makes it easy and posts up photos of all their dishes right up on the wall, with an accompanying letter and number combination to use when ordering. It worked out pretty well, because there was a lengthy line up to the counter and that gave me time to stare at the wall and decide what to get. I had read about their spicy cumin lamb burger, so I knew that was something definitely to try. I looked around for a noodle dish to pair with the burger (which I figured to be an appetizer), and the zha jiang mian was what ended up catching my eye.
At Xi’an Famous Foods, their zha jiang mian consisted of thick hand-ripped noodles cooked with a savory sauce that had fermented soybean paste base, along with minced pork, celery, cucumbers, scallions, and chives mixed in. It’s definitely a hearty dish, but on a cold day, that’s exactly what would hit the spot.
It was most likely because of the holiday that attributed to how crowded the place was. While my dad and mom were in line ordering, I was staking out some of the seating, and just so happened to grab three seats next to each other when another group was leaving. You put your order in at the counter and then wait by the pick-up window for your number to get called. The staff seemed relatively efficient in getting the food out and keeping the crowd to a manageable level, but you could tell it was the lunch rush for sure.
When that plate of zha jiang mian came out, it already had that look that told me it was going to be good. But before I dove head-first into the noodles, I decided to take down the lamb burger first. On an initial glance, the bun looked like it was made similarly to bao buns, except this had more of a flatbread-style to it and was toasted. The lamb itself on the inside had good flavor, with the cumin definitely coming on strong. Red onions and scallions helped to provide a bit of an edge, while the red chili flakes definitely gave it a slight kick, but not too overwhelming for my taste. Definitely an interesting take on what you could consider a Chinese burger.
But I was definitely excited to get started on the zha jiang mian. The entire time I was eating the lamb burger, the smell of the noodles just kept wafting upwards. That first bite was just a blend of savory, spicy, and umami flavors that lights off in your mouth. It looked like there was also some red chili oil in the sauce, and this time around, I actually felt the spice slightly build as I kept eating more of the dish. The hand-ripped noodles were cooked al dente, but because they were usually long strands on the plate that weren’t cut, I found myself having to bite off the noodles into more manageable sections as I was eating. The celery and cucumber also helped provide a crunch between the bites of the softer items like the noodles and minced pork.
Between the two items, the zha jiang mian was hands-down the winner for me. It was a hearty and satisfying plate of food, packed with so much flavor. After that first bite, I don’t think that I was able to stop until the entire plate was gone. Even with the crowds at the place, the food hands-down was definitely worth the wait. Brave the long lines and crowds to experience food that will leave you walking away very satisfied and looking forward to the next chance you’ll get to stop in.
Let’s now take a look at the Xi’an Famous Foods Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
And finally, here are my rankings for Xi’an Famous Foods:
Food: 5 / 5
From the very first bite of the noodles, it’s a flavor bomb that explodes in your mouth. Savory, umami, and spicy all melding together for a very satisfying experience. The spicy lamb burger was a different take on a portable way to package the sautéed lamb, but in my opinion, it’s the hand-ripped noodle dishes that are the real winners.
Atmosphere: 3.75 / 5
Adjust your expectations when it comes to dining comfort, because the space layout at this location is more for functionality of just providing a place to eat. Sitting on the stool, you might have enough room to move your elbows a little bit at your sides while eating, but not much more than that.
Service: 4 / 5
I would almost describe the place like a Chinese fast-casual restaurant setup, with you waiting no more than five minutes after you place your order to the time you’ve gotten your food.
Price: 4.5 / 5
The price that you pay for the dishes is definitely worthwhile, where you get a lot of both value and flavor punch. I also haven’t seen that type of Chinese food served in other areas of Chinatown before, so I feel like there’s an element of exclusivity as well.