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La Mian, ... anywhere around the Bay?

I am a young chef just back from a few months in Shanghai and am deeply craving the steaming, spicy bowls of hand-pulled noodles. I have quickly looked around SF Chinatown but have been sorely disappointed with what was served as la mian. Fried ramen-style noodles just don't cut it. Any thoughts....?

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  1. Not hand-pulled, but a similar type of noodle in the spicy beef soup at ZY Garden (a.k.a. Sam Lok) in Chinatown is pretty satisfying, though actually spicier than Shanghainese tend to go for. Otherwise, you have to get away from Chinatown for the northern style noodles.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Xiao Yang

      Like where? I live in Berkeley and regularly make trips elsewhere in the Bay Area that always allow for some tasty side trips. And what's the address of ZY Garden?

      1. re: romwilson

        Not exactly the style you're looking for, but closer to home, and probably worth trying... there's supposed to be good Taiwanese-style spicy beef noodle soup (sometimes with hand-cut noodles) at Wuling Karaoke (not sure if they're keeping the name - they recently remodeled) in El Cerrito (10561 San Pablo Ave). I haven't tried it yet but plan to soon.

        1. re: daveena

          Can you eat here w/o having to listen to ppl sing?

          1. re: kc72

            According to callalily, who posted the original tip, they're limiting the singing to later in the evening.

          2. re: daveena

            Ok - I made it to Wuling Karaoke last night. The noodles are as good as calalilly promised, but the whole experience was one of the weirdest experiences I've ever had. I think it was even weirder than the deserted pizza parlor/Mongolian restaurant across from the main Oakland public library.

            I'd forgotten calalilly's note that the door is kept locked, and that you have to knock to be let in. As we were parking, we saw a few people go in, so we were puzzled that the door was locked when we tried to enter. The proprieter saw us peering through the window, opened the door, and asked, "noodles"? Yes, noodles please.

            We ordered two bowls (there is no written menu, and the proprietor said that they do not do knife-cut noodles) and settled into one of the few tables without a "reserved" sign. The singing started pretty early - maybe around 7:30 - and all in Chinese. Some of the patrons brought their own laserdiscs. As the room began to fill, we noticed that we were the youngest people there by at least 20 years.

            Now for the noodles - they weren't knife cut, but they were excellent. Roughly the diameter of thin spaghetti, fresh and very chewy, with a texture that held up to the end of the bowl. I was a little concerned that we'd received a non-spicy version when I saw the bowl - it didn't have the slick of red oil that I'm used to seeing - but it was very flavorful, with a subtle but satisfying spiciness. The meat was primarily meltingly tender tendon, and there were small squares of a green I couldn't totally identify (I'm guessing romaine lettuce). The broth was excellent - broths are usually too salty for me to finish, but I drank all of it. This was probably the most refined version of this dish I've ever had.

            We also ordered a plate of the excellent dumplings (wrappers are handmade) and spotted xiao chi (small eats) on other tables.

            The room is... eccentric. There are three flat screen TVs mounted high on the walls, as well as a small, raised platform with a chair for the singer, should he/she choose to sit, Christmas lights outlining the platform, and a dance floor that takes up at least 1/3 of the room. The silver disco ball is the icing on the cake.

            It did feel a bit like we'd crashed a private social club. I'm planning to go back again, but during the week... I'm hoping there will be less singing then, and also less of that feeling of intruding on a private party. Also, I'd like to try their xiao chi.

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            Wuling
            10561 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

            1. re: daveena

              Do regular patrons use a secret knock?

              What were the prices like?

              1. re: kc72

                LOL... no clue re: secret knocks. All I could hear was karaoke.

                The soup was $8/bowl, as were the dumplings (I forget how many were on the plate). Tax included. A dollar or two more than I would have expected, except I think that includes the right to karaoke... I think.

          3. re: romwilson

            As others have noted, any Chinese restaurant featuring Taiwanese, Shandong, Sichuan or any other cuisine north of Cantonese is likely to have noodle soups close to what you might find in Shanghai. Even there, the soup styles vary a lot. Did you have a particular favorite noodle shop or chain in Shanghai? I was really hooked on a place called A Niang Mian Guan in Xujiahui (where I happend to be living the last time I was in Shanghai).

            1. re: Xiao Yang

              Link:

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              Z & Y
              655 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

        2. Other places in EB that might work

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          Shanghai Restaurant
          930 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

          China Village
          1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

          Shan Dong Mandarin Restaurant
          328 10th St, Oakland, CA 94607

          Great Szechuan (closed)
          3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA

          3 Replies
          1. re: kc72

            I had the spicy beef noodles here last weekend. I thought is was very good, with more of a Sichuan flavor than average- besides Sichuan peppercorn I recognized at least 2-3 other pods and barks that I associate with some of the hardcore Sichuan dishes I've had, though I don't know what they are, really. The broth is flavorful and not oily, and there is a good amount of meat. I don't think the noodles stood out.

            I think this is better than the beef noodle soup I have had at China Village, though I have not ordered it there in many many years.

            I don't know that this is what you mean by la mian, though I rather suspect not.

            1. re: twocents

              Could you clarify where "here" was? The post you are replying to lists four restaurants. Thanks!

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Oh, sorry, you're right. I was referring to Great Szechwan. Sorry about that.

          2. The only place that I know of that serves hand pulled noodles...you can hear the slap of the noodles on the counter when they are making it...is Chef Wang Restaurant.
            1320 El Camino Real
            Millbrae, CA 94030
            The only place that I have had noodles that had the texture of hand-pulled, but not hand-pulled is San Tung.
            1031 Irving St
            (between 11th Ave & 12th Ave)
            San Francisco, CA 94122
            Some people like the hand made noodles at the Noodle Shop on 25th Ave. San Mateo, but I don't think they have the texture that hand pulled noodles have.

              1. Is it more the noodles you're missing or the spicy broth? It's hard to find both in a great combination in SF, but give these a try. They are Taiwanese, but as mentioned it's tough to find Shanghainese fare in SF.

                Tea Garden, Mission and 2nd. Taiwanese style beef noodle soup, but not at all spicy.
                Spices I, Clement and 8th. Also Taiwanese style, but quite spicy but not as good noodles.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Pei

                  I wouldn't say it's tough to find Shanghainese fare in SF, though it's tough to find the kind of noodle shops popular in Shanghai, because the market for something so specialized here is limited (compared to the market for Cantonese/HK style noodle soups). And la mian per se is not particularly Shanghainese, but the preference for eggless alkali noodles of medium thickness is.

                2. For La Mian - hand-pulled noodles, go to the source - Shandong style restaurants. Most of these restaurants are also known as Korean-Chinese as these restaurant owners from Shandong immigrated to Korea first and then to the U.S. and brought their noodles along with them.

                  As someone mentioned, in SF San Tung is probably the most famous one. Chef Wang and even Sam Wang's in Japantown are all examples of Shandong restaurants. In Berkeley, Great China is another. Most of these places use home-made noodles (but not hand-pulled 100%).

                  For 100% hand-pulled places, one may need to had south to either Palace Chef in Fremont or Four Seasons in West San Jose/Cupertino.

                  All these places will serve the famous hot and spicy Seafood noodle soup (ChaoMaMian), a home-style Shandong noodle dish that had become one of the two most popular noodle dishes in Korea. (The other being ZhaJiangMian, or black bean sauce noodle). But quality will differ. China Village, though not Shandong-owned, makes a good version also.

                  I have some write ups on some of these places mentioned:
                  http://eat.tanspace.com/?s=ChaoMaMian

                  -t

                  11 Replies
                    1. re: tanspace

                      Hand-pulled noodles are not of Shandong origin. Lanzhou, in Gansu province is generally considered the place of origin. In Shanghai, for example, hand-pulled noodles are almost always advertised as "Lanzhou la mian" regardless of who is making them.

                      I think Shandongren can take credit for shui jiao, though, bless 'em.

                      1. re: Xiao Yang

                        Actually, hand-pulled noodles are originated from Shandong. Fushan (福山) to be exact. It spread inland from there and to the rest of the country, including LanZhou.

                      2. re: tanspace

                        I can't remember where I read this but as nice and tasty as San Tung's (SF) noodles are, they are machine made and not traditionally hand pulled.

                        I will attest to tanspace's recommendation that Four Seasons is really hardcore Korean Chinese, at least they are more Korean than Shandong Chinese (I got a WTF look when I tried to speak Mandarin to the waitstaff).
                        The noodles are great.

                        I have to say that on a good day, Everyday Beijing (Bei Jing Mien Guan) has a great in house fresh made noodle (not hand pulled) that on certain days tastes very wheat based and light, almost like the texture of fresh soba and chuka soba (classic Japanese ramen type noodles). Absolutely slurpalicious.

                        The last time I saw a chef do hand pull noodles was the late Tokyo Ramen in Milpitas, where they actually used the thicker la mien noodles to make Japanese style ramen. The broth and chashu were flops but the noodle kicked butt. Oh well another one bit the dust.

                        1. re: K K

                          You may have heard it from me. In the old days, all the Shandong restaurants in Korea served hand-pulled noodles. But eventually it was too labor intensive and the "machine" was introduced to press the noodle at the final step. The quality is almost as good as the 100% hand-pulled but the texture is slightly different.

                          As most of the Korean-Chinese restaurants in the US are run by these expat-Shandong folks from Korea, a lot of them continued to use the machine here.

                        2. re: tanspace

                          Hello Mr. Tan, just wanted to update that Four Seasons no longer has hand-pulled noodles, or it didn't two months ago when I stopped by there. Hand-pulled noodles are still printed on the menu, so I ordered chao ma mian. But that's not what came out. I asked my waiter what happened, and he said that they haven't been making hand-pulled noodles for over a month. When I pointed out the discrepancy on the menu, he just shrugged and didn't seem to understand the problem. I asked if there was any plan to have hand-pulled noodles again, he said sometime but not now. I sent the dish back and left.

                          While it may have changed, in the past, China Village doesn't use black bean sauce for ZJM. Also the noodles are knife-shaved (or sometimes machine-made) but not hand-pulled.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            That is bad news! There are usually a couple of reason why a restaurant stops selling hand-pulled:

                            1. the hand-pull noodle chef left
                            2. during summer time, the heat and humidity can negatively affect the process of hand-pulling of noodles (making it not impossible, but much harder to do). In this case, they may resort to machine making.

                            Let's hope it's the latter and that they bring it back eventually.

                            1. re: tanspace

                              Found my photograph of the chao ma mian, too bad the noodles don't show here.
                              http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3101/2...
                              I was there on March 27, so not a heat and humidity issue. Maybe you can call and found out the story, in any case, check ahead before you make the trip over there again.

                              Afterwards I went to Saravana Bhavan in Sunnyvale and was served some of the worst South Indian food. I've liked it in the past, maybe just a terrible chow day for me.

                              -----
                              Four Seasons Restaurant
                              1163 S De Anza Blvd, San Jose, CA 95129

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                I'm digging up an old thread, but I went to Four Seasons with my mom tonight and the guy said he didn't know when they would have hand pulled noodles again. They stopped sometime in the summer (must have been after my last visit).

                                It's kind of disappointing to see fewer and fewer places make the noodles the full manual style. I read on yelp that Tsing Tao in Campell is no longer good as well after a change in ownership/management. I guess it's time for me to start practicing again to make my own hand pulled noodles.

                                1. re: Cary

                                  IIRC, it was reported here some time ago that Tsing Tao had gone downhill.

                                  But some good news perhaps is that China Way has re-opened. Please do let us know if you try the handpulled noodles there. I'd posted on the chef when he was running Fortune Cookie while rebuilding China Way.

                                  -----
                                  China Way
                                  3475 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA

                        3. Wow im so impressed! I went to wuling with my bf last night and the food was awesome. Although the decorations are (very asian) the food and friendly owners made me feel like I was back in Taiwan..but better. The common problem i have with beef noodles is that its too oily, but wuling's really wasn't. After chatting it up with the owners, I found out they use to own one of my favorite restaurants in SF call Umeko. I'm so glad they opened another restaurant! What a sm world! As for la mien or cold noodles i asked the owner if by chance she knows how to make it. She said if i call like a day before she'll make it...and get this....it's all only $8! Wow good job Calalily! It's funny i've been there twice this week and brought friends.... and yes, the singing is included. (even if you're as horrible as my bf!)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: bubblesnonstopeater

                            Glad to hear you guys liked Wuling! I haven't been there for awhile, but I heard they finally did open for lunch. I agree, the owners are very nice and accomodating. I'm curious what else they have on their menu. Will try to go this week and report back.

                            1. re: calalilly

                              link

                              -----
                              Wuling
                              10561 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530