The 3.6 million people of northwestern Chinese city Lanzhou take their beef noodle soup very seriously. In the capital of Gansu Province, it’s possible to find the beloved specialty sold on every street corner, making it more than just a staple dish — it’s a way of life. “They wake up at 5 a.m. to have the very first, best bowl,” says Esther Yuan, a partner and manager at Lan Noodle in Arcadia. “Everyone has their favorite kind of noodle, and the chefs remember their orders so accurately.”
While Lanzhou-style beef noodle soup has appeared on menus across Los Angeles for some time now, two notable specialists emerged in Arcadia in the San Gabriel Valley last year. First there is Lan Noodle, which arrived in the summer of 2019, followed closely by 1919 Lanzhou Beef Noodle, which opened in the fall. Both are dedicated to sharing this regional dish with discerning Angelenos.
“A good Lanzhou beef noodle soup should have a strong, clarified beef broth,” explains Clarissa Wei, an American journalist based in Hong Kong. “The noodles are pulled to order, uniform, and chewy.” There are even vocational schools in Lanzhou devoted solely to teaching noodle pulling, according to Wei.
Los Angeles’s ever-growing Chinese population means that hyper-regionalized fare — delicacies that can often be traced to specific villages or townships — is making inroads in and around the San Gabriel Valley. “I think we’re finally reaching a point where there’s enough community support for all regional Chinese food, no matter how obscure or niche it may seem,” says Johnny Lee, the chef behind Cantonese pop-up Pearl River Delta. “There’s also a lot of competition, so being different is one way to stand out.”
Whereas Taiwanese niu rou mian is celebrated for its dark, almost murky broth, the Lanzhou style more closely resembles Vietnamese pho. As Wei notes, the backbone of every bowl is the broth, patiently overseen and tenderly simmered for the better part of a day. “We use a combination of beef and chicken bones, along with 28 herbs and spices including white pepper, star anise, black cardamom, and cloves,” says Yuan from Lan Noodle. The result is a clear broth with a gentle medicinal hum that comes through at first slurp.
And then there are the noodles, hand-pulled to exact specifications with every order. The masterful noodle pullers at Lan Noodle and 1919 Lanzhou Beef Noodle work behind glass, welcoming curious eyes and camera phones to witness their craft. It’s not just a showy stunt or Instagram bait, though — made-to-order noodles are a point of pride, and the Langzhou tradition.
“It looks easy to make, but it’s really hard to maintain the same shape all around,” explains Yuan. “Ideally, in one bowl you have one thickness. If you see two or three thicknesses, it’s not good. Lanzhou people will not eat it.” While the broth provides the dish’s soul-warming foundation, it’s the bouncy noodles, made with high-gluten flour, water, baking soda, and a plant-based additive for elasticity, that make every bowl truly spectacular.
The experts at 1919 Lanzhou Beef Noodle can pull seven different shapes ranging from thin strands like angel hair to wider and flatter noodles like Italian pappardelle. There’s even a thickly twisted variety resembling a triangular prism at certain angles. “The noodles don’t get soft and soggy in the hot broth,” says Lee. “The way they knead it, it’s very springy; there’s a really nice chewiness.”
Not to be outdone, the masters at Lan Noodle can pull nine different shapes, including one that is “thick, chewy, and not widely accepted outside Lanzhou,” says Yuan. Lan’s chef will only make this unwieldy noodle upon request. Whether one prefers thin or thick, round or flat, there is a noodle for every taste when it comes to Lanzhou beef noodle soup.
To serve, every bowl is garnished with tender slices of beef, slivers of daikon radish, chile oil to taste, and a confetti of scallions and cilantro. Every steaming serving is a vividly colorful feast for the eyes.
This is the ultimate comfort food prepared for the Lanzhou expats who miss it most — and fortunately, everyone else gets to savor it too.
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