China's Shaanxi Province is known as one of the cradles of Chinese civilization, but the region also claims to have given birth to a food many Americans hold dear: the hamburger. And though the inventor isn't always the first to market, Shaanxi Garden, which serves a terrific version of the region's famous rou jia mo, or "meat sandwich," opened back in November 2015 in the Sunny Plaza off Valley Blvd in San Gabriel. It serves up a variety of Shaanxi cuisine from the giant province's many regions. The owner, who provides only the mononym "Xia," came to America by way of Shaanxi and opened up a restaurant to "make food [he] enjoys."
The place itself is tucked away into a corner of a strip mall, with plush booths lining the walls and surrounding a couple traditional circular Chinese banquet-style tables in the middle. The expansive menu touches on many dishes that are famous in Shaanxi, such as cumin-spiced lamb kebabs, the previously mentioned rou jia mo, to a beef soup with thin, rolled up shell-shaped pasta that the English menu refers to as "pita."
The bill of fare seems a little daunting at first glance — and it is. The menu items are priced commensurate with most sit-down Chinese restaurants in the area, and thus don't necessarily constitute "Dining On a Dime." But behind the two different brands of orange soda offered (a cursory bit of research reveals that orange soda is popular in Shaanxi) and the mind-bending number of different menu items, the region's signature dish emerges. Not the rou jia mo, as is popular in the street stands in Xi'an, but the biang biang mian.
...noodles resemble extra-wide pappardelle with a varying thickness, a kind of charming inconsistency that unveils the human element...
Biang biang mian carries two distinctions to set it apart from your typical noodle dish. The first is that the Chinese character for the word biang is an onomatopoeia that might be the single most complex character in the language, so named (at least from one anecdote) for the sound the noodles make when they hit the boards during the pulling process. And the other, slightly more immediately concerning distinction, is that the noodles are massive. The hand-pulled noodles resemble an extra-wide pappardelle, with seemingly boundless length and varying thickness, a kind of charming inconsistency that unveils the human element of noodle pulling.
The mian themselves are cooked a step softer than al dente, and come topped with bean sprouts, some minced pork, — and strangely, but effectively — celery and carrots in a savory, gingery sauce. A first bite reveals a very heavy and savory noodle dish with contrasting textures from properly cooked vegetables. Two (or more) heaping spoons of the chili oil, however, are key because the spice adds a welcome bite of sharpness to the proceedings. The spicy oil makes the dish, and the chore of downing such a herculean bowl of greasy noodles, seem oddly balanced and pleasant. A note to the wise — one bowl, which currently runs about $8, should suffice for a meal.
For those not given to the noodles, the rou jia mo puts spiced, shredded pork meat between a crunchy, flaky, almost flavorless biscuit. Undoubtedly intended as a quick snack to pair with a beer, it also benefits from added helpings of the chili oil. It's the noodles that steal the show here, though, and in a city as diverse and culturally rich as Los Angeles, it's nice to see that even Shaanxi food gets some solid representation.
529 E Valley Blvd #178a
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.