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New Xi'an/Shaanxi restaurant Terra Cotta Warrior on Judah St. [San Francisco]

I visited this new restaurant today and was very favorably impressed by the noodle dish I had (youpoche mian="noodles with sizzling oil") and a cumin lamb "burger" (roujiamo).

It's a small place with a compact menu really focused on Xi'an/Shaanxi and other North China dishes. All the noodles and sauces are made in house. I've scanned the menu and posted it as a set on Flickr.

Terra Cotta Warrior
2555 Judah St. at 31st Ave.



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  1. thanks again, Xiao Yang.

    1. This looks very interesting, thank you Soupçon for the report. The food looks fabulous, and I really like the way the name in Chinese characters is rendered on the front -- quite an interesting font that looks custom designed.

      1. Somehow I missed reading about this before, but I will try this place soon!

        1. Two of us had lunch at Terra Cotta Warrior on the way to Bouquets to Art last week.

          The Garlic Taste Pig's Ears had a great texture for me though maybe a little soft for those who like them very crunchy. A very refreshing dish, not very spicy.

          The Tofu with Preserved Eggs had good flavor and texture. I'm not a big fan of pork sung but in this dish the pieces were small enough to avoid the chunks of unchewable fibrous material that often annoy me, and they added more intense flavor than usual.

          The Pita Bread Soaked in Lamb Soup (I'm not sure which of the two version we had) was quite tasty. I was surprised how dumpling-like the little chunks of bread were.

          At first we weren't especially impressed with the flavor of the Noodles with Sizzling Oil but that may reflect our failure to fully mix in the toppings and sauce. When I finally got a big dose of the toppings it was very flavorful. The noodles had highly variable shapes and were a delight to chew.

          The service was good with no language problems. The décor was much nicer than your normal inexpensive Chinese restaurant—even the restroom was nice.

          1 Reply
          1. re: charliemyboy

            Yes, the "Noodles with Sizzling Oil" need to be mixed vigorously at the table, and your server was amiss in not informing you of it. I've been to places in China where the server mixed it for me.It's an excellent dish, prepared tight.

            The same caveat applies to the "Shaanxi mian-pi" That pool of chili oil at the bottom is meant for you to slosh the noodles in.

          2. oh dear, I love me a roujiamo. These little burgers - sometimes better in spicy pork flavor - are all over beijing, too.

            8 Replies
            1. re: bbulkow

              Both Terra Cotta Warrior and Xi'an Gourmet on Geary & 2nd have decent roujiamos. TCW's "Pork with hot pepper burger" is the best of the lot, IMHO, loaded with fresh jalapenos AND chili oil.

              1. re: soupçon

                I was in the area recently and decided to try out Terra Cotta Warrior (rather than Xi'an Gourmet, as I had been disappointed by it's previous incarnation's offerings vs. promised offerings a couple times, and apparently has a new chef but same management),
                I got the Shaanxi mian pi and the pork rou jia mo (I somehow missed the hot pepper version on the menu).
                I enjoyed the mian pi--it is definitely heavy on the sour note, but I think that is a characteristic of this style, and to my taste had great flavor, not just a one-note sourness. I would prefer thicker, wider noodles, but perhaps that's because I've only had these starch-based noodles once before in Flushing (and even then I preferred the saucing to the noodles, and use the sauce with some hand-pulled noodles) and like quite a bit of texture in my noodles, which is perhaps not a main pi characteristic. I particularly enjoyed the pieces of dough included in the mix of noodles, cucumber, and bean sprouts. They absorbed the sauce well, and provided more chew than the noodles.

                The "Chinese burger with pork" was okay. I found it had too much bun/filling, particularly since I missed out on the hot peppers. No problem, as I dipped the top half of the bun in the mian pi sauce. The hat the texture of a pork shoulder stewed in liquid--a bit stringy. It was seasoned--a medicinal note that I couldn't identify stood out to me

                1. re: ...tm...

                  The noodles look a little thinner than at xian gourmet.

                  Was it at all crowded?

                  1. re: ...tm...

                    By "Flushing" I assume you are referring to Xi'an Famous Foods, and poppa Shi's sauces are incomparable. I love the way they package the sauce separately in a plastic bag for takeout, for those days when it's too hot and humid to hang out in the Golden Mall. XFFS mian pi saucing is also much spicier than Terra Cotta Warrior's, though TCW offers a "Szechuan Mian Pi which may be more comparable (I haven't tried it).

                    The "bread" in mian pi is actually kao fu, wheat bran gluten.

                    I frequent both TCW and Xi An Gourmet and feel they both have their virtues. In general, TCW's food is more finessed, while Xi An Gourmet's dishes are heartier in both composition and portion size. Xi An Gourmet needs my business a lot more than TCW and the dumplings (shui jiao) at Xi An Gourmet, made by a woman from Qingdao, are among the best in the City, IMHO.

                    1. re: soupçon

                      It wasn't crowded, but I was there just a bit after 4pm on a Saturday. Tables were starting to fill up by the time I left.

                      Yes, I did mean Xi'an Famous Foods, who's liangpi I consumed a couple years ago in a gluttonous buy everything from the Golden Mall session, where the origin of many of the dishes got lost in the shuffle. However, I do remember the sauce being both spicier and more garlicy than at Terra Cotta Warrior, though, again, I really enjoyed the version there too. The kao fu seemed denser than versions I've had in Shanghai-style preparation

                      I'll have to stop by Xi'an Gourmet and get those dumplings.

                2. re: bbulkow

                  I really like the ones at Xi'ian famous foods here in NYC, but i have to say as lauded as their cumin lamb version is, i personally prefer the five spice flavored pork (though it isnt spicy its got much more rounded and nuanced flavor than the cumin lamb which is just straight cumin and heat).

                  1. re: tex.s.toast

                    I'm a longtime XFF fan (since Spring of 2008, in fact) but I find their pork roujiamo a little too salty. I prefer Terra Cotta Warrior's version of the classic pork RJM, but prefer the ones packing heat overall.

                    1. re: soupçon

                      oh yeah - i go into any XFF experience knowing that ill be drinking water like its going out of style. worth it, imo.

                3. Tried this place on Tuesday with two Chinese-American friends.

                  Overall, I had a positive impression and would probably give it another try, but my friends wouldn't.

                  I think the roujiamos we started off with were the highlight for all of us. One of the pieces of cumin lamb in mine was a little gristly but the flavor of the burger and the pork/jalapeno burger were good.

                  Mian pi: I liked the vinegary tang, thought there was a note or two that felt missing. My friends thought the dish was too sour. Seemed like it needed some stirring at the table to blend the flavors, as each ladling of broth tasted a bit different.

                  Cumin lamb: I didn't really want to get this since we already had it in the burger, but my friend insisted on ordering it, too. OK version, got the sense the primary flavors were actually chili/garlic with cumin playing a more subtle role.

                  Sizzling noodles w/oil: not sure why the English name of this dish is "sizzling," because this version wasn't when they brought it out. A thin layer of chili flakes on top covered a thicker layer of scallions. Impression of this one was meh - we initially were concerned that it would be too spicy, but once everything was mixed in I felt it lacked oomph.

                  Ong choy: fine, a standard prep with garlic and a little chicken stock.

                  I'd probably come back to try the Qishan minced pork with noodles, but wouldn't hurry back - would check out Xi An Gourmet first. Service here is very amateurish and slow, too.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: bigwheel042

                    The dish is called sizzling because the last step in preparing the dish is to pour very hot oil over the other ingredients to cook them (none of which will have been cooked beforehand except for the noodles). Since vinegar and soy sauce will have already been added, it will sizzle (and splatter, which is why it's done in the kitchen and not at the table).

                    I think the main missing note in the mian pi (and to an extent the other two noodles dishes I've tried at TCW) is heat. I think they are holding back on the spicing (at least for gueilaos). I'll typically keep mum about the desired spice level (unless asked) on the first try to see what the kitchen's default level is, and next time around request it spicier if needed.

                    1. re: soupçon

                      Interesting. I am not sure how much the oil is supposed to cook the other ingredients, but one thing my friend (who spent a fair amount of time working in Beijing) complained about was that the soy sprouts in the dish were pretty much raw. Perhaps the oil was not hot enough?

                  2. My experience with the group was a little different...the last restaurant we tried, the food was Soooo HOT, that my tastebuds were numbed and I really couldn't taste anything...this time although the food could also have been too hot for me...it wasn't! The heat level was pleasant...however the food itself seemed undistinguished, monochromatic, and really lacked variety or taste..the flavor was just...absent!!
                    The place itself was quite beautiful for a Chinese restaurant...quite tasteful!...if the food had mirrored the decor I would have been quite happy! I won't return....but thanks for putting the outing together as always it was fun...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ChowFun_derek

                      Well, Shaanxi food is not Sichuan food, and the only noodle dish I'd expect to be REALLY spicy is the Shaanxi mian pi, but it wasn't. Next time I'll ask for it spicy and see what I get.

                      They do have some Sichuan dishes like fu qi fei pian (a.k.a. "Couple's Delight") that I haven't tried yet, so I don't know how high they'll take the heat for their customers.without asking.

                    2. Tried it the other day.

                      The cold spinach appetizer was really nice. It was made with ginger and maybe miso or something like it. Made for a good veggie side dish.

                      I thought the mian pi was good, but not amazing. I didn't think it was too sour. The texture of the "noodles" was nice, it just needed a bit more depth somehow. Adding a bit of chili sauce helped in this respect.

                      Shaanxi Style Stir Fried noodles were good, though not the most interesting flavor-wise. But the texture of the noodles was fantastic, and possibly the best texture of any I've tried recently (my main point of reference is House of Pancake's). What are the best dishes I can order with these hand-pulled noodles? Especially non-soups?

                      Would definitely return, and I liked the nice atmosphere. Exciting that there are now two Shaanxi restaurants within a short drive from where I live.

                      1. Sunday at noon, the place was about half full. There's not a lot happening in that area, so glad they're getting business.

                        The dough wasn't ready for the Chinese burgers (roujiamo) so I got the following:

                        Garlic Taste Pig's Ears : cucumber, pig ears, cilantro and perhaps too much raw garlic. Fresh tasting and a good balance to heavier dishes. Good portion for $3.95.

                        Spinach with ginger sauce : wilted but intact spinach and minced ginger and, I believe, black vinegar. Delicious-- I'm gonna try to make this at home. It took me a while to pick out the black vinegar, so DaveMP's guess of miso or something else might be in there too.

                        Qishan minced pork noodles : soup topped with a toasty chili oil, tofu skin, and shredded egg, and containing hand-pulled noodles, wood ear mushrooms, only a few bits of minced pork, green onions, and a few tiny bits of pressed tofu. No individual flavor jumped out in the broth, but it was delicious and sour. Noodles were too soggy/stretchy and didn't have a consistent width. There were a couple of 1/2" wide pieces, and lots of lengths tapering to about 1/16".

                        The meal cost $17 before tax/tip and there enough leftovers for lunch today.

                        1. Thanks for the recommendation, Mr. Soup.
                          I went for lunch on the hottest day of the year, arriving at 11AM on Wednesday -- fortunately I got good parking on a side street. When I left the place at noon there were a few other customers.
                          I ordered three dishes and took some home:
                          Garlic pig ears ($3.95): at first I was dismayed by the low ratio of ear to vegetation, but the crunchy cucumber and radish was a good foil for the gelatinous ears. An excellent refreshing dish for a hot day. Highly recommended.
                          Shaanxi Mian-pi with sesame sauce ($4.25). Very unusual texture and flavor to the noodles themselves -- I loved it, but a few hours later they became gummy. So not suitable for take-home. Thanks to the information provided in this thread, I dug deep for the sauce which was excellent and spicy enough for me -- there was a pot of hot sauce on the table which I did not need. Nice to have another cold dish on a hot day -- though the restaurant was cool inside.
                          Cumin Lamb Burger ($4.50): Nice crunchy bread, tasty juicy lamb, some green peppers that were not very spicy. This dish did hold up for leftovers several hours later.
                          A fun experience. I spoke with the owner about a liquor license; they have applied but after three months still do not have it. He said that "five years ago it only took one month to get a liquor license in SF" so maybe he had experience in another restautrant; he blamed the city for the delay but I think the state controls licenses. There have been other places that have had delays in licenses recently. Highly suspicious!

                          1. Chron piece by Jonathan Kauffman has some background on the place.


                            1. We went yesterday. We were not that familiar with Xi'an/Shaanxi cuisine. Husband went to some Xi'an/Shaanxi restaurants on a business trip to NY and came back raving about them. I looked on Hyperbowlers great Chinese restaurant list (thanks Hyperbowler!) and we decided to give Terra cotta warrior a try. We arrived at around 5:30. Not very crowded but the place was packed by the time we left. I liked the decor of the restaurant, not overstated and more contemporary feeling than most Chinese restaurants. We loved it and will be going back. Based on reports here I told the server we liked very spicy food. Except for the Ma Po Tofu, the food seemed free of the overload of MSG you get at many Chinese restaurants in the US. Husband mentioned the food had a Silk Road feel and I agree. The prices were very affordable especially considering the high quality of the food. Here is what we ate:

                              Pork with hot pepper burger. Burgers are meh to me. But this burger I LOVED. This was my favorite dish. The pork itself was sweet and contrasted nicely with the sharp spicy jalapeños. The toothsome bread was the perfect vehicle.

                              The cumin lamb burger. This was good but not as good as the pork one we had. My husband said he had a better version (more crispy lamb) at the restaurant he went to in NY.

                              Shaanxi Mian-Pi. I have never had a dish like this. We really enjoyed this. The noodles were toothsome and spicy with a satisfying sourness.

                              Pita Bread Soaked In Lamb Soup. Really homey, comforting and tasty. This soup was permeated with an intense satisfying lamb flavor. The pieces of bread were almost like tiny dumplings and together with the mung bean noodles they added a satisfying texture to the dish. Very different, very good. Great food can make you feel like you are transported to a different location. This dish made us feel like we were transported to some exotic destination on the Silk Road.

                              Ma Po tofu. We got this because I love Ma Po Tofu and I am always curious to try different versions. This version was very good. The only element it lacked was that there was not enough Sichuan pepper. A bit more Ma La would have knocked it out of the park.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Ridge

                                One more thing on this subject. My husband mentioned that at the Xi'an/Shaanxi restaurant he went to in NY he had a dish that was like handcut noodles with cumin lamb and pickled vegetables. Also a hot and tingly lamb face salad. Are these two dishes available at any of the Xi'an/Shaanxi restaurants in the Bay Area?

                                1. re: Ridge

                                  Xi'an Famous Foods in NY lists dry or in soup varieties of Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles 孜然羊肉干扯面 / 孜然羊肉汤扯面

                                  In soup and/or dry forms, TCW, Xi'an Gourmet, and OK Noodle in Fremont list lamb noodles. None list cumin as an ingredient, so they may or may not be the dish you're looking for.

                                  None of those places have lamb face or lamb leg salad. Mission Chinese Food used to have a lamb face noodles, but that hasn't been on the menu in a while.

                                  Given the popularity of Xi'an Famous Foods, I'm kind of surprised no one has simply copied their menu top to bottom.

                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                    I recall a comment by Chris Cosentino somewhere that lamb face salad as served at XFF cannot legally be served in California. I'm not sure which parts of the face are verboten, though.

                                    XFF's menu grew outward from a few "hawker stall" type offerings targeted to an immigrant Chinese market, and it's not something you'd plan top down for a sitdown restaurant. Also, XFF's success owes a lot to founder David Shih's extraordinarily bold saucing and spicing, which our local Xi'an establishments approach too timorously, if you ask me.