It doesn’t look too bad from the outside, but wait till you step inside!
Xi’an Famous Foods’ fourth branch, on St. Marks in the East Village, has been open for business only a few days, but it is already wildly popular. I arrived soon after the narrow storefront opened at 1 p.m. on Sunday, and to my chagrin, there were already customers waiting for their noodles inside. On the positive side of the ledger: Unlike at the branch downtown on Forsyth Street, there are comfortable seats inside, including a pair of two-tops and four additional chairs along a lacquered wood counter.
Twenty minutes after the place opened on Sunday (July 4), Xi’an was jammed with gustatory supplicants.
The same three-person crew that worked at the Forsyth branch is now installed on St. Marks, making me wonder who’s working in Chinatown. The menu is identical to the previous establishments, though every time I go, I discover something that went unnoticed before. In this case it was the buckwheat cold noodles (A3, $5). This vegetarian dish features nicely cooked soba, sprouts, fresh green chiles, bright red chile oil, and “a touch of wasabi oil,” as the counter guy (who’s the son of the owner) told me. The taste was nutty and oily and surprisingly light, the perfect cooling dish for hot summer weather.
Buckwheat noodles (A3) take an unexpected Japanese jag.
For the purposes of checking consistency with the other branches, I also ordered D1, “savory cumin lamb noodles,” which is made with broad, irregular homemade wheat noodles that put plain chow fun to shame. The cook ladles on chile oil and toasted dark-brown tahini, and a good quantity of sinuous lamb braised with cumin. I’m happy to report the dish is every bit as spicy and oily as at the other three branches. I was afraid they’d dumb it down for the E.V. Paranoid me!
The biggest problem, once again, is space. Be prepared to wait in line for 20 or 30 minutes, and have a place selected to eat your food, because your chances of getting a seat inside are slim. One block east, Tompkins Square beckons, and then maybe you can wash your carryout down with beer in a bag. The hot noodles demand it.
D1, savory cumin lamb noodles, is every bit as pungent as at any other branch.