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101 Noodle Express, a Southern California Chinese Chain Specializing in Noodles and Dumplings


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I've been meaning to try 101 Noodle Express for a while, since it specializes in some of my favorites items in Chinese cuisine - noodles and dumplings. I had passed it over in favor of trying other places because the flagship item, the Shangdong-style beef roll, isn't my favorite. BIG MISTAKE. Turns out I didn't like them as much at other places simply because they weren't as good. Here, they are the highest expression of the snack, consistent and omnipresent at every table for a reason. The crepe-like bing is thin, flaky, and rich, but not oily. The beef is high-quality and sliced uniformly thin. There is just enough cilantro, scallions, and salty-sweet bean sauce to bring balanced flavors and textures. In case you aren't familiar with the beef roll (I think A&J recently put a version on the menu, but I never tasted it there), here's a nice description. The balance and uniform thinness of the layers, as well as tight wrapping, is key. We ate most of our roll at lunch and promptly ordered another to go (they travel really well!). 

We also got some dan dan noodles, which had a tiny kick but weren't particularly spicy (which we were expecting, since this is decidedly not a Szechuan place) and the hand-torn noodles were pleasingly chewy. We didn't have room for dumplings, but the many plates of pan-fried dumplings we saw scattered about the room were plump and had golden, crunchy-looking bottoms. 

We were at the Alhambra location, which is a casual strip-mall spot serving budget-friendly, simple, snacky food until late night (1 AM). They have a few other locations in Arcadia, Culver City, and Irvine. I learned one thing about their operations from their website that I find very promising for visiting other locations: 101 Noodle Express boasts a central, factory-like kitchen to secure quality control of its franchises. 

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The beef rolls at the Arcadia location are just as wonderful as I remember from the Alhambra location! We ordered one for there and one to go, and now that the extra roll is gone we wish we had ordered a couple more. We also got the pan-fried lamb dumplings and the non-spicy beef noodle soup.  The dumplings were plump, rich, and so juicy they were practically soup dumplings! They also sell dumplings frozen to take home and next time I think we'll do just that.  The noodle soup had pleasantly chewy hand-torn noodles and good, beefy flavor.  The Arcadia location is just about across the street from the original Din Tai Fung plaza in a kind of dumpy strip mall, and I think we'll be eating here from now on. There was quite the lunch rush a bit after noon on a holiday-ish weekday, and they are cash only so plan accordingly. 

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Unexpectedly passed by the Arcadia location today so had to stop and grab some beef rolls and dumplings. Since I was by myself I decided to order the fish (described as "sole fish") dumplings and another order of the lamb dumplings (my family doesn't favor either). I was excited to try the fish dumplings, as I have been every time I see fish dumplings on the menu (regardless of whether I actually order them, and this is definitely traceable to an order of pan-fried fish and cilantro dumplings I had @ China Bistro in Rockville back in 2014), but they were merely...fine. The filling was actually quite nice - gently mashed, loose and flavorful, with a scattering of scallions for oomph, and admittedly far from the spongy fish ball texture that I detest - but ultimately paling in comparison to the herby and succulent sliced fish filling of my memories. The lamb dumplings were great as usual, plump and juicy, and the many rolls I ordered to go were excellent and enjoyed by all who partook. Sigh, the hunt for truly excellent fish dumplings continues. I guess I could always fly back to DC...

BTW, if you find yourself here and in need of cash, the 7-11 on the same block has the nearest ATM. 

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They have beef XLBs!!!!!  I actually don't favor the XLB here, as they have thicker skins and are blander than many other places, but we spotted these on the menu and ordered them for my folks, who avoid pork and shellfish.  While the execution was only decent (I mean, DTF is right across the street), it's an odd ingredient that I haven't seen anywhere else and they turned out to be a special treat (because SOUP DUMPLINGS!!!).  Lamb and pork pan-fried dumplings, as well as the beef rolls, were excellent per usual.  Their cold cucumber plate is simple and not spicy at all, but just tangy and sweet enough to cut through the richness of all the snacks. 

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