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Jul 2, 2011 02:56 PM

Xi'an Famous Foods Looking To Open in Los Angeles?

When it comes to Chinese food, Manhattan is pretty much in the dark ages. There's no Chinese food in Manhattan Chinatown approaching Sea Harbour, Elite, Lunasia, King Hua, Mission 261, Happy Harbor or even Capital Seafood or Empress Harbor, and there is very little in the way of regional cuisine except for Cantonese, Shanghainese and Fujianese food. Yet, Greenwich Village (as well as NY Chinatown and Flushing) have something we don't have--genuine food from Xi'an, and that's something that annoys me. Xi'an Famous Foods and their wonderful lamb sandwiches and lamb noodles emerged literally from the basement of a Flushing food court and spread across the East River into Manhattan thanks to its discovery by Anthony Bourdain and his Travel Channel TV show. Now, there are hints of Xi'an coming to Los Angeles, through their Facebook inquiry for favorite eating locales in Los Angeles. It'd be interesting if they made the move to Los Angeles, and if so, where they might locate.

Mission 261 Restaurant
261 S Mission Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776

Happy Harbor Restaurant
1015 Nogales St # 126, Rowland Heights, CA

King Hua Restaurant
2000 W Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801

Greenwich Village Cafe
3809 S Soto St, Vernon, CA 90058

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  1. Between Omar's, China Islamic, and places like Lucky Noodle, I think SGV has everything that Xi'an has to offer, esp. their claim to fame the "liang pi" noodles which you can get a pretty good replica of at Omar's, Shen Yang, and Lucky Noodle.

    37 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Yes, but what if they opened up on the Westside or Silver Lake instead of the SGV? My guess is that's their strategy, and their targeted demographic is the No Reservations crowd, not you or me.

      1. re: Chandavkl

        I don't think it would make it for the same reasons discussed here why there is no good chinese food on the westside. To us it makes perfect sense, to the restauranteur and your average westsider/hipster, maybe not so much.

        1. re: chezwhitey

          I certainly subscribe to the theory that the Westside is an improbable location for an authentic and successful Chinese restaurant. But I didn't think it could be done in the East Village, but these guys pulled it off, so who knows?

          1. re: Chandavkl

            How long has this place been opened? I guess all it takes is one fearless person to get the ball rolling. Kudos to him/her.

            1. re: Chandavkl

              The Xian Famous Foods model is basically: tiny place, heavy foot traffic, very limited Xian snack -style menu, no bathrooms + blown up photos of Anthony Bourdain all over the joint!

              edit: OK, two of the four "franchises" have bathrooms.

              1. re: scoopG

                The one on Bayard barely has a bathroom. People have to get up from their table for you to open the door.

                1. re: scoopG

                  so all reservations about AB aside, Xian Famous Foods worth the stop? Now (NY) or in the future (LA)?

                  1. re: ns1

                    yes. Although don't sit next to the giant TV screen or you'll have to hear the promo play over and over while you eat your noodles and tiger vegetables.

                2. re: Chandavkl

                  Chandavki: With all due respect though, the East Village isn't comparable to any place in L.A. The fact that XFF worked there isn't that surprising given that neighborhood's ability to support any number of hyper-specific boutique restaurants. In terms of foot traffic density plus demographic diversity, the E.V. just has no corollary in L.A.

                  This all said, I think it could work on the Westside, maybe close to (but not in the heart of) Westwood, along Sawtelle, or maybe in Culver (though I'm more skeptical of the latter). Can't see this going over, at all, in any of the beach cities though.

                  1. re: odub

                    Might work in Westwood, or maybe 3rd St. Promenade or the mall.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      3rd St, really? I haven't been there in a minute but I feel like you'd need something more like PF Chang's to work there.

                      1. re: odub

                        Not sure Xi'an is exactly uber authentic.

                        In fact, now that I think about it, I'm not so sure Xi'an would have much appeal to the SGV demographic.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I don't see why it inherently wouldn't. This valley supports all kinds of noodle specialty spots; what's one more?

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            It's authentic - authentic street food/night market snacks found in Xian. $2 Cumin Lamb or Pork "burgers" etc. Has been already pointed out - great for a walk-by stop-in but would you really want to spend 30 minutes in your car to get there? Also the owner's son who is running the show says they plan to continue the model of having mostly non-English speaking staff!

                            1. re: scoopG

                              I'm a little surprised to see "authenticity" being bandied around (this isn't a shot at scoopg, just a general observation) since I think most folks around here would agree that while it's easy to call out the "fake", what qualifies as "authentic" is pretty vague outside of "this doesn't remind me of Panda Express." I couldn't tell you if any of the Chinese places I like eating are authentic to whatever region their food purportedly derives from...though I suppose most of them are "authentically SGV" if that makes sense.

                              In any case, forget the hype around XFF and just look at the menu and imagine walking into some SGV hole in the wall that had those pictures on the wall or in a menu. You wouldn't be curious to eat there? You wouldn't be eager to come back to Chowhound and or your food blog and write about it if the food was good? C'mon, you KNOW you would.

                              Hey, I dislike the idea of getting NYC's secondhand restaurants as much as the next guy but if they plunk one down in LA, I'll eat at this restaurant without qualms to its metropolitan history or media presence.

                              re: the Roy Choi PR joke...wouldn't David Chang actually be the better comparison?

                              1. re: odub

                                You're right there can be a fuzzy line between authentic and inauthentic. 45 years ago we thought Pauls' Kitchen was authentic. No doubt as to the Xi'an pedigree, though. The original Xi'an Famous Foods opened up around 2005 in a basement food court in Flushing, NY. When I first visited the food court, the decor was depression era soup kitchen, and there was no English language signage or menus, and all the customers were Chinese locals. Somehow, the food court in general, and Xi'an Famous Foods in particular got discovered, most notably by Anthony Bourdain. This led to a second location in a nicer Flushing food court, then a jump to Manhattan Chinatown for another branch. Even though it was in the tourist unfriendly Fujianese section of Manhattan Chinatown, they developed a following of non-Chinese clientele, which led to the East Village branch. Now with their notoriety which is expanding past New York, having been written up in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and other publications, I guess there is a danger of losing their authenticity. We'll have to see.

                                1. re: Chandavkl

                                  Maybe the EV/LA analogy is that XFF would have to open up somewhere in a more Chinese-dense part of town first (Alhambra would make me very happy) and then, if it gains enough momentum, can start popping up franchises in other parts of town. I can't speak for J-Gold but this sounds like the type of place he'd write about in a heartbeat (assuming the LA version was any good).

                                2. re: odub

                                  Good point - I should have just said that the owner of XFF and his son are from Xian and are turning out Xian style street fare. So in one regard XFF is less of a restaurant and more of a snackin' spot. (Once you put seats in a restaurant you must provide bathrooms and they avoid this whole issue in two of their NYC locations.)

                        2. re: odub

                          But historically East Village has been a wasteland for Chinese food. At least WLA has some decent authentic Chinese options. East Village is more a parallel to Hollywood, perhaps the biggest local wasteland of all when it comes to Chinese food, home to possibly the worst Chinese restaurant in LA, Kung Pao Kitty, which mercifully has closed. I attribute such voids to the "close enough" doctrine, i.e., some neighborhoods, while not conveniently close, are close enough to a place like Chinatown such that residents will make the effort to go there. Likewise, potential authentic Chinese restaurant owners avoid places that are close enough to a place like Chinatown and settle in Chinatown itself. To me this explains the Chinese food voids in other places like Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Glendale. Ditto for north Orange County due to the proximity to Rowland Heights, and East Village to Manhattan Chinatown.

                          Kung Pao Kitty
                          6445 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

                          1. re: Chandavkl

                            I don't know; since the late '90s, the EV is the neighborhood in NYC where I've spent the most time (for years, my brother in law lived literally next door to Chickalicious and I spent a summer on 9th, on the other end of the block from Veselka). For one thing, its culinary scene has changed a lot in the last 10 years - there's cute izakayas out on Ave C now, which is a trip, and the ramen boutique explosion has already been well documented. There just isn't anything about that neighborhood that feels remotely like Hollywood - not in personality, not in spatial design and certainly not in population. That both were wastelands for Chinese food doesn't say much since - as you note - LA is littered with wastelands for good Chinese food (though I'm not going to disagree that Hollywood is particularly bad, but hey, the Thai is good).

                            But the fact that the EV has evolved to the point where it's now a major testing ground in NYC for all kinds of hyper-specific, dish-oriented cuisine, suggests that XFF's odds were probably better now than they would have been at the beginning of the '00s. I think you're right - it was a risk. St. Marks would never have been my first guess as to where you'd put down a restaurant like XFF and think it might do well. But I think of its success as having less to do with it's Chinese-ness and more to do with just being another good boutique in a neighborhood now swimming in them.

                            Anyways: I like the "close enough" thesis but what I've always wondered about is why the student population at UCLA wouldn't provide enough critical mass for the right kind of Chinese restaurant to work out there. Something like Din Tai Fong on Westwood, slightly south of Wilshire, wouldn't work?

                            1. re: odub

                              Yes, UCLA has been a puzzle for me, too. There was a place that sold Taiwanese boxes over on Sawtelle and I think they only lasted a few months. I do think that my favorite restaurant, Union Buffet on Wilshire, is tapping into that market as they seem to have increased their traffic over the predecessor buffets by including some clearly authentic items to tap into that demographic (Fuzhou fish balls, giant sardines (or whatever you call them)).

                              1. re: Chandavkl

                                Re: UCLA

                                The demographics for most of the Chinese restaurants in SGV is usu. pretty old and caters to family -- i.e. first generate Chinese immigrants.

                                The places in SGV where you will see a younger crowd -- i.e. second generation immigrants, or the UCLA demographic -- would be Taiwanese boba places or HK-style cafes.

                                XFF, DTF, etc. fit into the first category (generally speaking), which is why UCLA and Westwood have had a hard time supporting a die-hard Chinese restaurant.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  XFF isn't only for die-hards. I think it's popular in the East Village with college students because it's really cheap. (And really good, but the prices are as outstanding as the noodles.)

                                  1. re: Windy

                                    Yeah, the price point is the other big factor to why I would think - maybe - someplace Westwood adjacent could support a XFF, esp. if you can triangulate that with other crowds (besides students) who would support.

                                    1. re: odub

                                      If they were smart, they'd start with a truck and try out different neighborhoods to figure out what works.

                                      (At least that's what I'd do if I were opening XFF here in San Francisco. Hint hint)

                                2. re: Chandavkl

                                  While Asian population at UCLA is 35%+, I don't think you'll find enough Filipino/Indian/insert-whatever students clamoring for lamb burgers or cold skin.

                                  St. Marks is exactly where I'd imagine XFF though. It's packed with NYU kids who slop up anything "hip" (don't get me wrong, I love Yakitori Taisho as much as the next guy). Hire a good graphics designer and a stealth PR firm, voila.

                                  Isn't Dumpling Man also on St. Marks? (Rhetorical Q; it is.) HTF has that place been able to stay open for 6 years is beyond me.

                                  This much we know: NYC != LA.

                                  FWIW, I did have a fantastic Chinese pork burger (shaved off a freakin' trompo, no less) in Hangzhou, for .. $1.40, and welcome any Chinese meat wrapped in a bao/bun/bing.

                                  919 W Huntington Dr, Monrovia, CA 91016

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      Do the places we already have in SGV make the "spicy cumin lamb burger"? I remember having the "yang rou jia mo" in Xi'an (China) and it was soooo good!

                      1. re: matikin9

                        Not a burger, but Omar's has a lamb mince meat pie.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Yes, and Omar's meat pie is good, very good. When I saw footage of Bourdain dining at X'ian, the dishes he was eating reminded me of Omars and JTYH.

                          JTYH Restaurant
                          9425 Valley Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770

                        2. re: matikin9

                          Random, but: if you're ever in Vegas, go to China Poblano at the Cosmopolitan and get the rou jia mo there. It's made with pork, Beijing-style, and it is fabulous. I crave it fortnightly. I wrote about it, actually, for It's very "authentic," too, if you're into that sort of thing.

                          1. re: Papuli

                            Thanks. I was wondering about that place. At times there is a fine line between authentic and not authentic. Xi'an Famous Foods was clearly as authentic as they get, but because they've wowed the hipsters, does that somehow make them less authentic?

                            1. re: Chandavkl

                              Not until the menu changes and the prices triple. So far so good.

                            2. re: Papuli

                              Awesome, thanks! I've never actually tried the Beijing-style pork ones since I only had it in Xi'an. I might actually be going to Vegas later this year too!

                          2. re: ipsedixit

                            I like Omar's but man, if XFF opened within a mile or so of Omar's, they'd probably kill business there (or else force Omar's to drop their prices by 20-30%).

                            Lucky Noodle and Shen Yang do hand-pulled noodles?

                            1. re: odub

                              They don't. There's no shortage of hand pulled, hand cut, and knife shaved noodles here in LA. However, as far as I know, most of the northern style noodle places in here claim to be Shanxi (the other Shanxi from the one Xi'an is in, usually transliterated Shaanxi to disambiguate the two) style noodles, and I've never seen / heard of any place that has the exact style of hand pulled noodles that Xi'an Famous Foods sells, which is a wide, "belt" shape noodle that comes out looking rustic, very similar to dao xiao mian.

                              Most of the other handmade noodle shops in New York claim to be Lanzhou style (from Gansu province), which I also haven't seen much (any?) of here.

                              I've can't speak to the food at XFF, but whether it's good or bad, it does seem like there is a lot of hype involved (maybe they have Roy Choi's PR agent?). I'm not sure how successful they'd be either in the SGV or in other parts of town. Somehow, LA seems to do "really authentic" and "really fake" well, but I think NY has a lot more luck with places that are kind of in-between those extremes.

                              There's another dongbei place besides Shenyang restaurant that also has the liang pi.

                            2. re: ipsedixit

                              Nah. There's lots of great food in Xi'an that you can't find here, fried persimmon cakes being the most delicious in my mind.

                              1. re: sushigirlie


                                But then there's lots of great food in Xi'an that you can't find in Xi'an Fine Foods.

                            3. Here is the link to Xi'an's menu. Boy does this stuff look good.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: wienermobile

                                what on this vast menu is XFF famous for?

                                  1. re: ns1

                                    Probably the spicy cumin lamb burger just ahead of the lamb noodles.

                                    1. re: Chandavkl

                                      What about the Liang Pi? Wouldn't that be in the Top 2, at least Top 3?

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Sorry. That's what I was referring to.