What's in a name? 101 Noodle Express' Best Dumplings in LA! (w/ PIX)
Being an L.A. native my entire life, and having frequented (and been dragged to :) many a food joint in the San Gabriel Valley for about 10 years now, it was only within the last 3 months that I discovered the terribly named "101 Noodle Express" on Valley Blvd. in the San Gabriel Valley.
Thanks to Chowhound veterans like jerome and ipsedixit (and many others), I finally ventured off to try this place. I kept seeing this restaurant being talked about, but stupidly blew it off because of the name. I kept thinking to myself, "Pfft! 101 Noodle Express?! What is that? Like a poor man's Panda Express?" :) Little did I realize just how much I was missing out on with my sorry mistake.
Over the course of the last 3 months, I've tried out 101 Noodle Express (Chinese name "Loo Wei Ju" - much better :) about 6-7 times, bringing various friends and fellow CH foodies, and we consistently all agree: 101 Noodle Express has arguably THE Best Dumplings in L.A.!
As of their latest menu, they have 25(!) different combinations of Dumplings you can try out (side note: You can order a "Dumpling Combo" to choose 2 different types (5 dumplings each), instead of just 1 normal order of 10). Here's a quick review of the dumplings we tried:
(Pictures attached below)
* Hua Vegetable Pork Dumpling (Hwei Hsiang Miao Zhu Rou): A very distinctive, wonderfully herb-infused Dumpling: A combination of Hwei Hsiang Miao vegetable with marinated Ground Pork! I know of no other restaurant in the SGV that serves this type! Hwei Hsiang Miao is a popular type of vegetable in Northern China (according to the manager) and it's very distinct, but adds a wonderful depth of flavor! My #1 favorite!
* Celery Pork Dumpling (Ching Tsai Zhu Rou): Using Chinese Celery (slightly different flavor, nuance from American Celery) mixed with marinated Ground Pork. Fragrant, nice combination of herbal vegetable and tasty ground pork.
* Wild Vegetable Pork Dumpling (Ji Tsai Zhu Rou): Another distinctive, rarer Chinese vegetable not as well known, this another great flavor combination that was tasty!
* Leek Pork Dumpling (Jiou Tsai Zhu Rou): This is a more commonly found style of Chinese Dumpling with Chinese Leeks, and it was solid, but tasted mundane compared to the other distinctive flavors.
* Fish Dumpling (Shi Bahn Yu Jiao): A nice Tilapia Fish Dumpling. Good flavors, on the lighter side.
* Lamb Dumpling (Yang Rou Shwei Jiao): I love lamb, but all of us agreed that this was average (the marinade for the lamb meat was good, but the overall execution / flavor combination was... so-so)).
* Pumpkin Shrimp Pork Dumpling (Nahn Gwah Hsia Zhu Rou): I had to try this one after a few CH'ers recommended it! Very distinctive and rare. I haven't seen this Dumpling before this restaurant. The flavors of the pumpkin, shrimp and pork were good, and it was distinct, but I prefer the first 3 dumplings listed above over this one.
* Pork Fried Dumpling (Hsien Rou Jien Jiao): This is essentially Shandohng Chinese Potstickers / Gyoza, executed wonderfully! 101 Noodle Express' dumpling skin works perfectly here, sustaining a toothsome texture and a nice grilled crispiness to the bottom of the dumpling. These are fantastic Potsticker Dumplings!
All of the Dumplings are handmade with a nice thickness to their dumpling skin. Some may prefer their dumplings with a thinner skin (personal preference), but I can enjoy Din Tai Fung's thinness, as well as the more homemade-style / rustic approach at 101 Noodle Express.
Their Leek and Egg Omelette (Jiou Tsai Heh Tzi) is a common, popular dish. 101's version is nice and crispy, but I found it a little too plain and oily.
They make their own noodles as well, and it's definitely distinctive: It's a little bit on the thicker side of a pasta noodle, closer to Udon noodles versus, say, the traditional white, thin noodles in many "Beef Noodle Soup" dishes found in the SGV. The thickness and texture works well in something like Eggplant Hot Noodle and their Beef & Beef Tendon Noodles, versus, say a Dan Dan Noodles (less sauce) where the thick noodles overpower the characteristics of the dish. Their plainly named "Chicken Noodles" (Pa Ji Mien) belies a wonderfully aromatic, tasty marinated Chicken with herbal Soup.
They also have homemade Wheat / Grain Noodles(!) which I've never seen anywhere else, but they were sold out every time I went. The manager said that the chef will make a batch "from time-to-time," so it's just rare. I'm very curious to try it one of these days.
As jerome has mentioned, 101 Noodle Express is home to Shandohng Province-style food, and their De Zhou Chicken (Shan Dohng De Zhou Pa Ji) is their take on a famous dish from that province in China. This is definitely some of THE most flavorful chicken I've had, ever! The herbal infusion of flavors into the very core of the stewed chicken is amazing. However, it can be hit or miss on the texture: The first time we tried it, the flavor was there (amazing), but the chicken wasn't stewed long enough (IMHO), because it was a little too firm for the meat. The next time it had a better (softer) texture.
Last, but not least, are the famous Beef Rolls. 101's Beef Rolls are pretty well done, but definitely a little on the oily side. But adding to their incredible variety (and distinctiveness), 101 Noodle Express offers a *Chicken* and *Pork* version of their Roll! I've never seen a Chicken version before, and it's easily my favorite! The Chicken Roll (Ji Rou Zhuan Bing) uses their special marinated chicken, combined with Green Onions and Cilantro and the nice crispy Bing Pastry for a great flavor and texture explosion! :) Since Chicken is leaner and less fatty than the traditional Beef Roll, it pairs nicely with the oily Bing Pastry and as a result it's near perfect! :)
In closing, for wonderful Chinese Shwei Jiao (Boiled Dumplings), 101 Noodle Express (Loo Wei Ju) has become my favorite place in the U.S.! While some may point to Luscious Dumplings, I find their dumplings to be too heavy and oily; the flavor combinations are too limited and don't agree with me as well, unfortunately (and they have so few tables and limited menu options). Dumpling 10053 (Yuan Bao) has now become my 2nd Favorite Dumpling House, surpassed by my new discovery; they have some nice flavors, and their own distinctive dishes as well, but 101 has more. I still can't believe I've missed out on these incredible Dumplings & Rolls for years (all because of the silly English name :), but thanks to all the Chowhound'ers who've talked about this place, I've found a great mainstay! :)
101 Noodle Express (Loo Wei Ju)
1408 E. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801
great review, i've really only tried the beef roll and the chicken...must try the rest next time im in town
Wow, that's exhaustive. Clearly, you enjoy their dumplings. We've only tried the beef roll, but will have to try the dumplings out of respect for your review!
one can get guo-tier in Shandong as well. And one can get Jian-Jiaozi in Beijing. But I do really like this place. They have made a concession to the local Chinese population - name change. the old name was the name of a famous eating establishment in Ji'nan. 滷味居 the name means "braised flavor establishment (lit. bureau or office)". The new name 魯味居 means Shandong-flavor establishment.
Both are pronounced the same. they're quite good. No liquor license in case anyone is interested and no BYOB
We tried a lot of the dumplings there as well, and omy fav is the pan fried version of the pumpkin-pork-shrimp. Generally I like the panfried or steamed dumplings better as the water boiled ones tends to have the favors leached out.
Our standard order are the dumpling, hot & sour soup, and the beef roll. Can't say I care for the chicken - the texture was just too mushy to be enjoyable for me.
There's a branch in Rowland Heights, but they have some stiff competition from Earthen for the potsticker and fish dumplings.
After reading your review, we had to go there. We tried the Hua Vegetable Pork Dumplings and the chicken noodle soup -- both were very good! We also tried the fried pork dumplings -- they were pretty tasty but greasy. My favorite classic gyozas are still from Mandarin Noodle in Monterey Park, which aren't greasy. We were dying to try the beef rolls which everyone else were having but we had too much food between the two of us already (the beef rolls looked big!), so we're definitely coming back! It's so fun to find a new place that's worth going back to, thanks!
Just ate here a few days ago. Everything was delicious. The Beef Roll was excellent. Had the pan fried dumplings, hua vegetable pork dumplings with noodle soup and the celery pork dumplings. Highly recommended.
I went here tonight with my wife and had a memorable experience. Not memorable in a good way.
Right after we ordered, we could hear people screaming at each other in the kitchen. Not the kitchen staff having a loud argument, but people yelling at each other at the top of their lungs. I'm a 2nd generation Chinese American, I live in the SGV, I'm used to the normal din of a Chinese restaurant. The other customers, all Chinese, were looking anxiously toward the kitchen.
We ordered the pork roll (very good), the pumpkin shrimp pork dumplings (OK), the cold cucumber appetizer (good), stir-fried vegetables and the beef noodle soup. Maybe as a result of the kitchen fracas, when we got our beef noodle soup, the broth was so oily that it was inedible. The noodles were nicely textured but probably 2/3 of the broth consisted of the oil from cooking the meat. There was no soy sauce flavor to the soup, like they hadn't finished it. I love beef noodle soup. I've had many versions throughout the SGV (some not so good) and this was the worst I've ever had.
Long after the rest of the food arrived, we gave up on ever getting our stir-fried vegetables. I asked for the check and told our waitress in Mandarin that we waited too long and we didn't need the stir-fried vegetables. One of the other waitresses seemed sympathetic and told our waitress that we were already finished with our meal, was she going to wait until tomorrow to serve us the stir-fried vegetables? Our waitress said she knew but someone in the back (maybe the owner?) told her to serve the dish since they had already started cooking it. Our waitress looked uncomfortable and kept on apologizing in Mandarin though other waitresses were giggling in the back of the restaurant. I also told them that the soup was too oily. The waitresses looked at it, seemed to agree, but did not say anything. We didn't make a scene, we just told them to pack up the stir-fried vegetables.
I have no doubt that the fans of 101 have had terrific meals here. But I go to customer-unfriendly places like Dai Ho on a weekly basis and never had an experience close to this. It almost makes me want to swear off ever going back. But I am Chinese, and the pork rolls were really good.
very odd. maybe they are the victims of their own success.
that said - and i like this place - i stick to the jiaozi and the beef roll, sometimes the dezhou paji/chicken. i rarely get the other dishes. no need for me... there are much better places for beef noodles, i think. the shandong jiaozi are really good as are the lengpan cold dishes.
Yikes, sorry to hear about that. It's unfortunate that you went on a night that some fight(?) broke out with some of the kitchen staff. :(
Like Jerome, I go to 101 for their Dumplings & Rolls (and once in a while a noodle dish, but not the Beef Noodles). They have their specialties, and their weaknesses for sure.
I think the kitchen must be in an uproar again, as we went last night and they were out of just about everything. Our waitress was clueless (my FIL speaks Mandarin) and looked like she wished we'd just go away. The place was nearly empty too.
But, loved the beef rolls and the De Zhou chicken and the BlueCherry Yogurt cups.
Fantastic review as always, Exile... I'll print this one up and take it with me the next time we go - hopefully very soon!
It's funny - reading through Rubashov's post makes me realize that this place can get a little colorful on a regular basis. We experienced a lighter version of back-and-forth in the kitchen as well. My wife who speaks Mandarin and a couple other dialects was snickering at what she heard. It's all tongue-in-cheek to me, as long as I get my food in a reasonable amount of time, and we all come out with our limbs attached. '-)
Based on Jerome's and J.L.'s recs on the OP's recent Noodle House thread, I tried this place out for lunch today and was overall pleased.
Of course I ordered the legendary beef roll, although I had no idea what this would consist of. I just knew it was "the destination dish".
I tried to order a combo with 5 fish dumplings and 5 pan fried pumpkin/pork/shrimp dumplings, but was told for the combo I couldn't get anything fried. This was a real disappointment to me because the main draw to this place was the ability to get "any" two dumplings in a combo: I didn't want to have to drop $20 in order to sample at least three things, like I did at Noodle House last week. On the other hand, at Noodle House I was also disappointed to not be able to order anything fried/potsticker style. I settled the quandary by opting for a full order of the pan fried, pumpkin/pork/shrimp dumplings.
The beef roll came out first. Now, had I known that the beef roll was going to be enough greasy fried goodness to please a small village, I would have been fine with the non-pan fried dumpling combo, or even skipping dumplings all together. I didn't find them overly greasy like exilekiss does; I thought the "wrap" was nice, although the dish overall was very heavy with all the beef combined with the fried wrap. A Chinese chimichanga, I thought to myself. As was the case with the green onion pancake at Noodle House, I was astounded by how much of the huge portion I was able to finish before the dumplings came out.
The shrimp/pork/pumpkin pan fried dumplings were delicious. I far preferred these to the steamed pumpkin shrimp dumplings from Noodle House; maybe because these had more substance with the pork, maybe more seasoning, maybe because they were partly fried. I can't really decide whether I like these more than the pan fried dumplings from Luscious Dumpling: I'd say they are about equally as good; and the great thing is I don't really have to decide which is better.
With tax and tip the bill was $16.50, which was a little better than the $20, but still more than I should have to spend at a place like this. But overall I was pleased with my visit and I'll be going back. As I pulled out of the parking lot it dawned on me that I forgot to try the yogurt. Oh well, I'll have to stop at Farm Boy tonight for my yogurt fix.
So the final verdict on 101 Noodle Express is that the red "C" in the window stands for "chowish".
You picked 2 out of the 3 best dishes at 101 Noodle. We usually stick with the beef rolls, the pan fried shrimp/pumpkin dumplings, and the hot & sour soup. The other boiled dumplings were OK and the house special stewed chicken was way too mushy.
I have a feeling Noodle House misfired big time when you visited. The seasoning at Noodle House were too subtle for my taste but, the shrimp were crunchy and the dumplings were not dry.
I think there were dumplings that did not have any meat listed as an ingredient, including some fish dumplings; but if the "no meat” requirement is a strict one I'd probably avoid any Chinese dumpling house that serves meat in any of the dumplings, just because there's a good chance some will inadvertently wind up in them. This was just discussed on the Noodle House thread (see Mr. Taster’s comments from yesterday): http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/536676
The menu at the Rowland Heights branch of 101 also listed sole dumplings in addition to the rock cod. I am pretty sure they don't have pork, but seem to recall egg in the mix.
I know Din Tai Fung is controversial, but they do have a decent fish dumplings w/o pork, also have a veggie dumplings. Appetizer is vegetarian. For dessert you can finish with the red bean dumpling.
Earthen at Hacienda Heights also makes a mean fish dumpling, also have steamed veggie dumplings and leek pie on the menu.
You've got almost all my faves for 101, except:
"lamb stick" - little teeny skewers of little teeny, luscious lamb hunks, rolled in slightly more cumin than should be allowed, then grilled. Very street food.
the cold chicken special that everybody seems to order. Very intense, pure chicken flavor.
I just went there and ordered 4 types of dumplings - the Hwei Hsiang Miao, the Ching Tsai, the Ji Tsai, and the Pumpkin/Shrimp/Pork.
I must say, they were good, but not delicious. The skin was excellent - thick, chewy, and with just the right amount of resistance. But the filling, even though it was juicy, was not delicious. The juiciness of the filling came from the water content of the vegetables, but the ground pork itself was mediocre. It was not that porky, and not nearly fatty enough. The best dumplings in Beijing are the ones w/ a juiciness that comes from the savoriness of a bit of fat, rather than a juiciness produced by vegetables.
BTW, we like to shop at 168 market, which is right across from 101 Express Noodles. The stores sells a brand of dumplings called "Myhall." They're made in the US by a Chinese company, and they're the most expensive frozen dumplings I've seen. They're well worth the price, though, and of course they're still cheaper than going out to a restaurant for dumplings. In my opinion, the juiciness of the Myhall dumplings is much more delicious than what I had at 101 express. I definitely wouldn't go back to 101 again, not when I can get frozen ones that are much closer to the juiciest and porkiest dumplings I've had in China.
Based on this rec after having lunch in El Monte I stopped off at 168 Market (cool market, btw) and picked up a bag of Myhall's frozen pork/leek/shrimp dumplings (on sale at $12 for a 3 lb. bag... without shrimp it's $8.50 for a 3 lb.bag.) On the way home I noticed there's MSG listed not once but three times in the ingredients list (once as a regular ingredient and twice as a "sub-ingredient" of other ingredients.) Also noticed there's 2 grams of trans fat per serving. Debating whether to return the bag or shrug it off as par for the course for Chinese food. Would normally just shrug it off probably, but Ido have a 3 year old, which was the whole purpose of picking up these dumplings. Thoughts?
I think MSG occurs naturally in many food, so I personally don't worry too much about it. My son scarfs down Doritos and potato chips like no tomorrow without any side affects.
If you are worried, you should just eat them yourself, or pass it off at potlucks (if they are tasty), as most asian places won't take returns.