NYC Bite: Xi'an Famous Foods
If you walk into one of Xi’an Famous Foods’ stores today, you’d never guess the chain’s humble beginnings. In 2005, using the skills he developed at various Chinese-American restaurants, David Shi opened a small stall in the basement of Golden Shopping Mall (located in Flushing, Queens) called Xi’an Famous Foods. For the next three years, the stall’s customers were nearly all immigrants from the west of China, who enjoyed the comfort of homey, authentic food halfway around the world. Then, in 2008, everything changed. One afternoon, a peculiar looking, pale-skinned customer walked down to the basement of Golden Shopping Mall, followed by a crew of cameramen. At the time, Shi was confounded by this strange face. So, Shi called his son, Jason Wang, who was studying business at Washington University in St. Louis at the time. Soon, the two established that super-chef Anthony Bourdain had just brought his crew for his hit show, No Reservations, to their restaurant. After sitting down, Bourdain sunk his teeth into Shi’s hand-made lamb-burger, letting out a pleased groan. The cameras caught every second of the action, and within a few months, foodies from all over the city were making their way to Flushing to try Xi’an (barely) Famous Foods.
After Wang graduated from school in St. Louis, he quickly moved back to New York. And, with his elite college degree, he began to take over the business end of the company. Soon, the stall’s hand-pulled noodles and burgers made enough money that Wang decided to open a second location, also in Queens. Sparking lines out the door, the cold skinned noodles and secret sauce that had previously been restricted to Chinese immigrants were now being eaten by all sorts of people. And, as the customers kept coming, Wang became more and more ambitious. He opened up another location in Manhattan, and began to scout neighborhoods for future expansion. Now, in 2015, Xi’an Famous Foods boasts locations all around the city. From the Upper West Side to Greenpoint, customers still can’t seem to get enough.
I went to the location on 78th between 1st and 2nd at about 9:30 pm on a Tuesday. Not exactly prime time for dining, especially on the Upper East Side. However, the kitchen was still quite busy preparing food for the sizeable group of customers in the store. I ordered "Stewed Pork Hand-Ripped Noodles" and chose the “mild” option for spiciness. Call me what you will—I just can’t handle spicy food.
The noodles had the texture of high-quality, al dente pasta—not as gloppy and soft as your normal noodle dish. The sauce, now dubbed the restaurant’s “secret sauce,” was full of spicy, exciting flavors. On top, the pork—which had a similar texture to pulled pork—was extremely tender and soft. Plus, it was lathered in the secret sauce, which is so good it really shouldn’t be revealed to the world. Finally, the dish is garnished with diced scallions and lettuce. As for spiciness, the “mild” option was perfect for me. So if you don’t like spicy food, definitely make the same choice. Overall, this dish was absolutely fantastic, offering a brand-new taste, which is always a great surprise. I highly recommend trying it, as well as the all-mighty lamb burger.
Give this place a shot—you won't be disappointed. Plus, with locations all around the city, there’s no excuse for it being too far.