101 Noodle Express (Los Angeles, December 2017)


It is a tradition for us—as it is for many others—to eat lunch on Christmas at a Chinese restaurant. When we’re in Minnesota on Christmas this always means lunch at Grand Szechuan. In Los Angeles, however, we have a wide range of excellent options to choose from. I’d originally thought to go to Sea Harbour for dim sum this Christmas—especially after being thwarted the previous weekend by various of the missus’ elderly aunts and uncles (we ended up at Oo-Kook instead); but then I recalled again the massive crowds we’d seen while driving past it to Chang’s Garden on Christmas a few years ago. And so we punted our Sea Harbour meal to a regular weekday and ended up instead at 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra. Thankfully, there was only a short wait.

101 Noodle Express is an old-school San Gabriel Valley restaurant. Which is not to say that they’ve not changed at all since they’ve opened. They’ve actually expanded a fair bit, with two more SGV locations (the Alhambra location is the original) as well as locations in Irvine and Culver City. The Alhambra original too received a major facelift a few years ago and if, like me, you last visited a long time ago, you might be surprised by the transformation. The menu and execution, however, are as before. And that’s a good thing.

In terms of cuisine, 101 Noodle Express has a number of Shandong dishes—I believe that is where the owners are from—but I don’t know a whole lot about Shandong cuisine and so could not tell you what percentage of the menu (and what exactly) is so focused. They are most famous for a few Shandong specialties: De Zhou chicken, Shandong chicken, beef roll and green onion pancakes. The latter two, with their wheat rather than rice base, are good reminders of the great heterogeneity of Chinese cuisines. Most of the rest of the menu, however, with emphasis on noodles, soups and dumplings will seem generally familiar. And they have a number of dishes from other regions—soup dumplings, for instance, and also Sichuan-flavoured cold dishes. We ordered fairly broadly.

On this occasion I did manage to convince my mother-in-law and one set of uncles and aunts to join us. The menu at 101 Noodle Express is very Korean-palate friendly and I am glad to report that they enjoyed the meal a lot. And we did too. We were five adults and two children. For the pictures of the restaurant and for details on what we ate, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on price/value etc.

All of this came to less than $100, which puts it in the “very good value” category (and we took some leftovers home—portion sizes are large). Oh yes, they do not take credit cards, so make sure to come with cash. Service is the usual San Gabriel Valley impersonal and brusque but it’s also helpful enough if you’re not a Mandarin speaker (though life gets a bit complicated if you’re in a group full of people who seem like they might be Mandarin speakers).

It was, again, a very enjoyable meal. The highlights were the noodle soup and especially the beef rolls. The latter are compared by some to burritos but Indians will find them much closer to paratha rolls. The bread is basically a thin paratha—the filling, of course, has a very different flavour profile. It’s good to come in a large group because you do want to get the beef roll but, as good as they are, you don’t want that to be the only thing you eat (and you don’t want to either waste it or heat it up at home and risk turning it soggy).

Next up from Los Angeles: an excellent sushi lunch.

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