Shaanxi Gourmet in Rosemead is an overlooked place. Located in Rosemead off of Valley Boulevard and Walnut Grove, it's the first restaurant I tend to take new visitors of the San Gabriel Valley to. Portions are generous and the food is tasty, but the real draw is just how unique the dishes are. It'll change the way you think about Chinese food.
The restaurant pays homage to Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi, that northwest province of China most commonly associated with terracotta warriors. I've been in the back of their kitchen before, where all the noodles are made from scratch by hand on a daily basis. Head chef Ma and owner Qi are both from Xi'an and a good majority of their tools are imported straight from there.
Xi'an cuisine takes advantage of pork and lamb, and there's a liberal use of garlic and spices. Beer, naturally, is an ideal pairing, as is orange soda, according to my Xi'an-raised friend who was excited to learn Shaanxi Gourmet carried the same brand of orange soda from her home.
Large black plaques of Chinese text adorn the wall, each of them etched with the history of various signature dishes in Xi'an. Rou jia mo, which dates back to the Qin Dynasty, is the world's oldest hamburger. It's made with a flaky unleavened flatbread and stuffed with stewed, spiced meat -- an ideal appetizer and even better with beer. Then there's the biang biang mian . Made up of 58 strokes, "biang" is the biggest Chinese character in existence. It's an onomatopoeia, named after the sound the noodles make when they're being slapped on the table. The noodles, thick as a belt, have a certain flexibility to them and are paired with bean sprouts, bok choy, and a spoonfuls of chili oil.
Noodles are a reoccurring theme. There are hand-torn ones, decorated with lamb, and liang pi, a bouncy noodle dish drenched with a substantial dose of vinegar and chili.
The mala fen (direct translation: tongue numbing vermicelli) is a crowd favorite. It's a spicy vermicelli, mixed in a peppercorn-rich broth with seaweed and strips of bean curd. "This is one of my favorite dishes at home," my Xi'an friend said. She requested a piece of unleavened bread from the kitchen, broke it into half, and dipped in the dark red broth.
The best entree, though, is the paomo -- crumbled up, steamed, unleavened bread served in rich, lamb-based soup. The flavors are wonderfully complex and the bread absorbs everything it touches. In Xi'an, you break the bread yourself, but Shaanxi Gourmet has it all pre-prepared. They give you a side of cilantro, chilies, and pickled garlic. Mix that all in, watch the dish turn a faint red, and enjoy immediately.The bread will soak up the broth quickly.
Though it might taste luxurious, Shaanxi Gourmet serves common man's food. It's street food -- casual, fast, and meant to be enjoyed as a group. When I took my Xi'an friend there, we started off with grilled kebabs, whole fish, pig ears in chili oil, then finished off with a smorgasbord of noodles and a hefty amount of paomo.
"My family and I eat this type of food every week," she explained. And then she flagged the waitress down and asked for another pitcher of Sapporo.
"We always eat with beer."
Address: 8518 Valley Blvd., Ste 102, Rosemead, CA 91770; (626) 288-9886