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Need a new place for Chinese beef rolls... :(

Like many here, I've long been a fan of the beef rolls at 101 Noodle Express in the SGV. Sadly, on my last few visits, I've noticed that the quality has slid very far downhill. The first time, I thought maybe it was a fluke, maybe they just took exception to my shoddy Chinese language skills and decided to stint me. But after the third incident of sad, anemic, beef rolls, I have no choice but to conclude that they have decided that they no longer need to try. What were once glorious, plump rolls bursting with beef, cilantro, and that wonderful sauce, are now less than half the girth, with a single layer (barely) of beef and a mere swipe of sauce. I brought some home for my sister, and they confused her - she thought they were vegetarian at first because she couldn't detect the meat.

So on to the next place. The great thing about the SGV is that there's always something new and always someone trying to be better. So any tips out there for the next new place for beef rolls? :)

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  1. i was at 101 about a month ago and felt much the same way about the beef roll.

    i like flavor garden across the street. while i haven't tried their beef roll, everything else i've had there has been pretty good. i bet their beef roll is at the very least solid.

    10 Replies
    1. re: barryc

      Flavor Garden's BR is beyond solid.

      I still really enjoy the rendition at Mama's Kitchen, especially when I'm fiending for some cholestrol and suet.

      1. re: TonyC

        all three places are pretty much within a 50-100 yard radius. get two friends, each of you get a beef roll to go and meet & eat in the parking lot - or sit at one of the tables in front of lee's. side by side taste test.

        i don't anyone else mentioned it yet, but i noticed there's a new place next to 101 to the east:

        zoe cafe or cafe zoe. open til midnight during the week, 1:30 am on weekend nights.

        half the menu is drinks: teas ($3.50) milk teas ($3.75) Slush/smoothie ($4.25) & other drinks.

        food offerings include appetizers, fried rice, noodles & porridge, the most expensive being $7.99.

        seems like a takeoff of the tea place in focus plaza whose name momentarily escapes me. i want to say tea garden.

        minimum purchase: $3.25 & tax to be seated.

        1. re: barryc

          Zoe Cafe: http://www.yelp.com/biz/zoe-cafe-alha...

          The local barbers say it's pretty decent.

          There are now 2 "Taiwanese" tea shops within 50 yards of each other, in the same plaza. Someone's going to shutter before 2014.

          1. re: TonyC

            ah. i didn't pay attention to what used to be there so the dip's grill post eluded me. thanks.

            1. re: TonyC

              zoe cafe gave up the ghost months ago.

          2. re: TonyC

            i've had the FG version twice now. it has become my favorite version.

            FG has had larger and larger lunch crowds every time i go.

            1. re: barryc

              While I loved the flavor of the FG beef roll, I found the cold temperature of the beef off putting.

              1. re: JAB

                IIRC, you've said that a couple of times now. however, in multiple orders i have yet to experience what you find to be off putting;

                1. re: barryc

                  Are you saying that your beef hasn't been cold or that you don't find cold beef in a beef roll off putting.

                  1. re: JAB

                    probably both. if the meat was cold, it didn't bother me. but then i didn't think the meat was particularly cold either.

                    try another one.

        2. In no particular order:

          - Tai Fung (Rowland Heights)
          - Ji Rong (Rosemead)
          - Flavor Garden (Alhambra)
          - Huge Tree (Monterey Park)

          Happy eating.

          1. The beef roll at Easy Earthen in Rowland Heights is quite good.

            1. Which 101 Noodle Express did you go to?

              3 Replies
              1. re: raytamsgv

                Hi! I went to the one on Valley and New. Ah, I should have gone next door to Mama's Kitchen too! Thanks for all the tips. I particularly love the beef roll crawl concept - this shall be done. I shall report back!

                1. I went to the Atlantic Blvd location about a month ago and the Valley location maybe 2 weeks ago.

                  The Atlantic Blvd one left much to be desired. The bing part was the problem, though, not the beef. I'm guessing it was either undercooked or had been sitting around for awhile, or maybe both.

                  When I went to the Valley one 2 weeks ago, the rolls were perfect and with heaping portions of beef. Maybe they're just inconsistent?

                  On the other hand, I went to Huge Tree 3-4 months ago, and didn't like their beef rolls at all (which is largely why I've never gone back). If I remember correctly, the problem was with the bing. Not flakey enough.

                  1. House of Mandarin Noodle on Temple City BLVD, in Temple City. First and only time I've had this "Chinese Burrito". Really good! I may not be a reliable source as I haven't had it again since. But yeah, it was good here.

                    1. Hi, all! So I took barryc's suggestion and did a beef roll taste off. The results:

                      - 101 Noodle Express (Valley): Just not what it used to be. Much flatter with only a thin layer of beef and not enough sauce. Better than anything you can get in the South Bay, but still... sad face.

                      - Flavor Garden: Great little place! Beef rolls were solid. They don't have the girth that the 101's sported in their heyday, but the bing was nice and crisp, good amount of beef, right amount of sauce. Good proportions overall. The leek pies were delightful too. Thank you for the suggestion!

                      - Mama's Kitchen: These were my friend's favorite. The smallest of the ones tried, but really good proportions and flavor, and the inclusion of a thin layer of egg was quite delicious. I don't know that I'd go there for anything else though as the menu looked a little all over the place. It's connected to a bowling alley, so I guess they have to keep it pretty broad?

                      - Easy Earthen: My friend picked these up in Rowland before heading over to meet me in MP. Unfortunately, they were soggy by the time they got to me, so I can't really judge them fairly. I have to say that the bing seemed a bit thick in proportion to the filling. But perhaps if it had been hot and crispy, I wouldn't have minded?

                      Thanks again to everyone for their suggestions!

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: heinous

                        Hmmm...I went last night to the 101 @ Valley/New, and I thought they did a fine job. Now the LAST time I went? Yeah, barely any beef, no sauce, etc., but last night they were bomb.

                        Must be inconsistent. When/what time did you go? I went at like midnight.

                        1. re: crocodileguy

                          I think you may be onto something. I've never felt a lack of beef, and I always go late.

                        2. re: heinous

                          glad you liked the idea. i've been meaning to do the same, though i did have the FG beef roll a few weeks ago. if thomas keller were to make a beef roll, i think FG's version would be closest to it. there's a certain level of finesse & precision in the construction that you don't get in the 101 & MK versions.

                          the 101 version is seemingly mass produced by bipolar workers getting paid minimum wage (which explains the hit or miss quality) while the MK variant is assembled by someone who actually enjoys life but in a blue collar kind of way where goodness is in some way predicated on excess,

                          last week i was at ming wa, and ordered their version of their scallion pancake along with an order of their cold sliced beef and assembled our own mini sandwiches. this is facilitated by the fact that the ming wa scallion pancake is actually rectangular strips cut into roughly TP sized squares (i've still got that magic restroom motif floating around in my brain) that are 2-3 times the thickness of a typical scallion pancake. sometimes less is more; we were pleased with the results.

                          going back to MK, can be hit or miss. the last time i went, someone in my group happened to share some obscure commonality with... "mama" and she consequently recommended and brought out stuff that wasn't on the menu that my friend kept raving about.

                          1. re: heinous

                            Definitely give Easy Earthen a chance when it's fresh and warm.

                            Re: Mama's Kitchen menu being "a little all over the place" It was a Shandong place that became a Taiwanese place & then back to original owner again, 'cept they kept some of the Taiwanese favorites. Being Shandonger is why the beef rolls are so good.

                            1. re: JThur01

                              I dunno if others' experiences are the same, but I've had some not so crisp scallion pancakes at Easy Earthen, but they've always been spot on for me at the regular Earthen. As mentioned, definitely worth a try if you've never been.

                              1. re: andytseng

                                finally tried the scallion pancake (and of course, the shandong chicken) at earthen a couple of weeks ago. a lot thinner than most, almost like eating a quesadilla (minus the cheese) but extremely crispy. i see why it's popular.

                            2. re: heinous

                              it got mentioned elsewhere, but mama's kitchen is gone.

                            3. Anyone ever try the one @ Mama's Lu?

                              This was from the ynez location, next to KT Cafe.

                              Skin was crispy, meat was juicy, but I wasn't a fan of the thick cut cucumbers. Will ask for it without them next time.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: blimpbinge

                                The last time was 2 weeks ago, I think, from the OG location.

                                FG's a better packagae. And Mama's Kitchen is still a better gut-bomb.

                                That said, out of the 3, Mama's Lu was the only take-out, so maybe it wasn't completely fair.

                                1. re: TonyC

                                  I was at Mama's Lu for dinner last night and I thought the wrap was a little on the chewy side. The beef/sauce/cilantro filling was tasty though.

                              2. I was there recently and did not notice a decline in their beef rolls. I have been going there for a few years now and they have never been "bursting with beef" in my experience

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Ernie

                                  I don't want my beef rolls bursting with anything but flavor. Too much beef and I feel like I'm eating one if those oversized NY-deli sandwiches.

                                  A good balance of beef, cilantro, sauce and crispy, flaky "roll" is what a good beef roll should be all about.

                                2. I know people go to JTYH/Heavy Noodling II for the noodles but I like their beef roll quite a bit.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: SauceSupreme

                                    i don't like cucumber in my beef rolls if they haven't been properly salted and rinsed to get rid of the excess water; it makes the texture soggy.

                                  2. But what about the beef roll at Arcadia 101 Noodle Express? With opening day at Santa Anita less than a month away, I needs to know.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: jesstifer

                                      i had one to go about a month ago at dinner time. it traveled pretty well. but i hadn't eaten all day and i pretty much inhaled it.

                                      1. re: barryc

                                        but not before i took a pic

                                      2. re: jesstifer

                                        According to the 101 Noodle Express website they have a "central, factory-like kitchen to secure quality control". Perhaps the local store might do something a little different in final prep, but there should be a consistency.

                                        1. re: Chandavkl

                                          BTW there's now a branch in MP at the corner of atlantic and hellman just south of the 10.

                                          i could see things like the scallion pancake being mass produced, possibly frozen and then shipped to various branches where it would be fried kinda like the ones available in the supermarket. ditto for the meat in terms of centralized production. but assembly would still have to be done at each separate location, where there would be IMO enough room for the human factor to result in differences in taste and texture, unless they've gone as far as to take it to an extreme that includes pre-measuring the amount of each separate ingredient, and precision of length of time, temperature of the oil for frying the pancakes, etc. which i don't think occurs based on some of the comments i've read here.

                                          1. re: barryc

                                            Mass production of Shandong beef rolls is no problem. Gordon Food Supply in Chicago, for one, produces them.


                                            1. re: Chandavkl

                                              that may or may not be happening at 101 noodle express, but if so, again, the variation observed in some of the comments suggests there's still some sort of human factor involved.

                                              and you mentioned la choy - their home is in archbold in the NW corner of ohio. according to a friend who grew up in archbold, the plant was run by 3 mexicans back in the 80's.

                                          2. re: Chandavkl

                                            I'm not sure where they make the pancake itself, but the final prep/assembly is done in the kitchen. I peeked in and watched the non-Chinese kitchen staff put them together in the Arcadia location a few months ago. I think the ingredients were pre-measured, but I not completely certain.

                                            1. re: raytamsgv

                                              the relative quality of the texture of the pancake prompted me to believe that assembly occurs for the most part at the time of order. it's like eating refrigerated sushi; it's not the impact on the neta as much as once that rice gets cold and loses moisture that results in it becoming less palatable, though in this case it would be the impact of the pancake picking up moisture either through condensation and/or adsorption from the other ingredients (especially if they use something like fresh cucumber) so that you lose the contrast of the crispiness of the pancake, etc.

                                              i want a beef roll badly enough to go get one right now. what day of the week is flavor garden closed again?

                                          3. re: jesstifer

                                            If in Arcadia and heading to the races, instead of beef rolls, I would stop by Si Hai (aka Four Seas) and pickup the beef or pork sandwich made with "tsao-bing".