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Oct 10, 2012 11:40 AM

Xi'an/Northwest Chinese cuisine in (downtown) Toronto?

So I am not usually even a fan of Chinese food, but I just returned from a trip to New York where I found myself eating at Xi'an Famous Foods. I had the most transcendently amazing food--not just Chinese food, but food--I've ever eaten. Only got to try two dishes, the Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles and the Tiger Vegetables Salad, but both were incredible. I have been fantasising about them ever since. I know Toronto has a large Chinese community so I am wondering if there is anywhere I can get food like this, preferably in downtown Toronto?

I'm thinking especially of the unusual combo of the lamb and cumin, which I've never seen in Chinese food before, and those incredible hand made noodles--they were wide but not thick, uneven, scraggly, chewy, tender and...just mind blowingly good. The spice and oil levels of the dish were pretty intense but beautifully cut through by the fresh vinegary salad. The whole thing was just superb. Please, please, please tell me there is something this good here!

We live at Dundas and Spadina so downtown Chinatown recs would be great if you have any--or even if you know of any regular Chinese places that have great, chewy, fresh noodles, I'd like to hear about those too. Thanks!

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  1. You can refer to my replies in for detailed addresses and menu. Among the following 4, only Chinese Traditional Buns (the least expensive and quick eat place) is at where you live:

    *Chang An Northwestern Chinese Cuisine

    *Chinese Traditional Buns

    *Shanxi Legend

    *Chinese Halal Restaurant

    12 Replies
    1. re: chutchut


      Sichuan Cuisine also has roast cumin lamb leg. It has 3 locations. The one on highway 7 has best environment.


      Menu (roast cumin lamb leg is on page 8-9):

      Sichuan Legend (you'll see fried cumin lamb


      I believe that all other Sichuan restaurants would have cumin lamb dishes. However, for the noodles you mentioned, I know Chang An Northwestern Chinese Cuisine has it for sure - they'll understand if you ask for wide noodle.

      1. re: chutchut

        Xiangcunfaxian Restaurant ( 2 locations, the one at Bayview & John) is newly opened and has good environment) also has cumin lamb, which is dish #313:

        1. re: chutchut

          Have you dined at the location at Bayview and John yet since it opened? I use to go to the restaurant (Thai) that was there prior, and wonder how these new guys are faring.

          1. re: T Long

            The old Thai restaurant was "Pineapple Queen". I've been there once. I would say that the price is high comparing with its quality. This new "Xiangcuifaxian" is the opposite. I would say that the price is very reasonable (towards the lower end) comparing with its quality. I've been there twice. Though some of the dishes is not at the level that we expect. However, they're still at the acceptable level, esp. when you consider its low price and big portion. The deco there pretty much kept the deco of old Pineapple Queen. If you like Xiang (Hunan) cuisine, you could definitely give it a try. Most of their dishes are hot hot, however, they have non-hot dishes available. And for some of the dishes, you could ask for not adding hot or less hot. If you can read Chinese, here's a thread from a Chinese forum re reviews of this restaurant:

            1. re: chutchut

              Thx...I don't read Chinese, but I know lots of people that do and they often are my dining companions. (#1 secret to finding good food)!

              1. re: chutchut

                Do you have any recommendations on dishes to order? Chili Chicken? Cumin Lamb skewers? Sesame pancake, etc?

                Do they have stinky tofu?

                1. re: trane

                  This restaurant is a newly opened restaurant. Based on their first visit, people in the Chinese forum (in the thread that I posted above) recommended: 201 Deep fried chicken with chili pepper; 207 diced chicken with cashew in soya sauce; 209 deep fried chicken bone in spicy sauce; 313 stir lamp with cumin & pepper (note: I don't think that they have cumin lamb skewers); 511 stir fried bean curd with salty pork & pepper; 526 steamed lotus with pork; 701 catfish hot pot; 712 griddle cooked cabbage/pork. I tried 209 as well - it is super good!

                  I don't think that they have stinky tofu. They have Pan fried cake with green onion, but not sesame pancake. I haven't tried it yet. Pancakes are usually good at the northern style restaurants.

                  1. re: chutchut

                    I ended up there the night before you wrote this, so didn't get a chance to try your recommendations. We grabbed a few things, and they were mediocre. The lamb and beef dishes used fairly bad cuts and were either too fatty, or too gristly. However, the sauces were fairly tasty.

                    We tried the salt & pepper shrimp skewers and they were very tasty, the cumin chicken skewers too. They do have cumin lamb skewers now, but did not try them.

                    Definitely not going to order the chicken bones, that's not for me. There's another north-western place on Yonge Street near Finch and they have chicken bones on the menu. We tried to order "Framework Chicken" and they wouldn't let us. For good reason, as we had no idea what it really was!

                    If I get back there again, I will try those recommendations.

          2. re: chutchut

            There is a little stall that sells cumin lamb skewers, on Dundas right next to the Royal Bank. I've never tried them though.

            1. re: Teep

              They're okay. I went more for shiggles than anything else...


     -- food. is. love.

              1. re: jlunar

                Cool photo's on the stall. I like the lamb skewers. I don't mind the spice they put on but I see what you mean about it masking flavour. I giggled at the photo of the meat you didn't like. Awesome pics Jlunar!

              2. re: Teep

                Chang An Northwestern Chinese Cuisine and Chinese Halal Restaurant have the cumin lamb skewers for sure.

            2. Usually "Chinese" refer to the culture of the "Han" people, the majority in China. However there are many non-Han people, e.g. Manchurians in the North East, Mongolians in the North West, which are also ruled by China, and their cuisine influences made their way into modern day Chinese cooking. Cumin comes from Mongolian BBQ, I believe.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Teep

                There're 56 ethnic groups in China: the cumin dishes I believe are mostly from "Hui" (Muslim), "Mongol", and "Han". Among regional Chinese cuisines, the cumin dishes could come from Chuan (Szechuan), Lu (Shandong), Xiang (Hunan), Xinjiang Islamic, Mongolian:

                1. re: chutchut

                  The Chinese have used cumin for centuries and there is much speculation on how it entered China. It was used in China by 200 CE and likely well before. Cumin may have arrived via the Silk Road or perhaps from India. Some historians think it may have arrived from Iran. A more contemporary view holds that cumin is indigenous to some areas of China, India, Iran, northern Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East and South America. A popular Mongol dish was mixing coarsely ground cumin and fennel and rubbing it on meat before cooking.

                  1. re: scoopG

                    Of interest is the fact that cumin's common name in Chinese "孜然" does not seem to have anything to do with plants or cooking. The Chinese wikipedia page suggests it is an approximation of the sound of its Uyghur name "zire".

                    1. re: Teep

                      孜然 Zīrán (like 枯茗 Kūmíng) is a loan word so it won’t show up as a plant name. The plant name (Cuminum cyminum) is 欧莳萝 Oūshíluó - but was also known as 小茴香 Xiǎohuíxiāng. It gets complicated - spice names are often problematic. Cumin, caraway, coriander, cilantro, carrots, dill, fennel, and parsley are all related as plant members of the Umbelliferae family.

                      To add to the cumin confusion, there are two types: white and black. Common cumin is white cumin (Cuminum cyminum). Its darker-colored mate is known as black cumin (Cuminum nigrum). There is possibly a third type known as Imperial cumin. It’s thought that the Mongols used lots of this black cumin that are in essence dark brown seeds.

              2. I have been to Xian and also went to Xian Famous Foods in NYC and loved it. Definitely try Chinese Traditional Buns - on Dundas just west of Spadina (downstairs). More seating than NYC and they definitely have handmade noodles although they cost 50 cents more or so and you have to specify. I haven't been to the others suggested here.

                1. We had a very nice meal at Shaanxi Restaurant tonight in Richmond hill, located in the Commerce Gate at 505 Hwy 7. It was very reminiscent of the meal we had when we stayed in Xi'an for a few days back in June.

                  Had the lovely wide chewy noodles (2 versions), perfect texture and flavour (even without the spicy sauce added). The hand ripped bread in soup was as authentic as it comes and the lamb slices were very delicate and not overwhelming. Crispy chicken was very good, the ribs were a bit too fatty for my liking, also some skewered grilled fish and some stir fried beef were good as well. Veggies dishes were very fresh as well.

                  They also have another location at Alton towers in Scarborough called Chang An Northwestern.

                  I saw a number of people having hotpot as well, but it didn't look too interesting to me.

                  1. Bonus recipe for making Lamb's Face Salad at home!

                    My wife already vetoed me doing this on the grounds that I will traumatize the children.