Japanese ramen and Vietnamese pho may be the most popular Asian noodles in America today. Yet no one does noodles better than the Chinese, who have been practicing the craft for thousands of years.
Here in Atlanta, diners are beginning to wake up to the pleasures of slurping pasta the Chinese way, thanks to restaurants like LanZhou Ramen (where you can watch chefs stretch dough into delicate noodles by hand, or wield a knife to shave noodles straight into a bubbling pot) and Xi’an Gourmet House at Jusgo Food Court in Duluth. (As best I can tell, Xi’an Gourmet is the only place around that makes Shaanxi province’s crazy-long biangbiang noodles, and they are excellent.)
While Buford Highway remains the region’s international dining mecca, the Asian community is like a mighty wave that keeps flowing north. That brings us to Xiao’s Way Noodle House in Johns Creek, a tidy little mom-and-pop shop from chef Xiao Wei and her husband, chef John Hwang. Wei is Chinese, Hwang Taiwanese. And together they have created a place where it’s possible to enjoy a dazzling variety of soups and stir-fries made with wonderful fresh noodles — all in the $10 range.
Poring over the menu one night, I asked my server to clarify which dishes were fashioned from noodles crafted Xiao’s way (as opposed to packaged). She ran her fingers all the way down the first page of the trifold noodle menu.
“All these,” she said, pointing to a list including beef noodle soup, abalone and chicken noodle soup, shredded pork with salted cabbage noodle soup, and so on. Then, her hand swooped over to the top of the third leaf, where she checked off a couple of more options.
All told, there are 42 noodle selections on offer at Xiao’s Way, plus a couple of appetizers, a collection of well-trod Chinese-American classics such as sesame chicken and Mongolian beef, and a usual “bento-box” lunch concept that allows customers to choose an entree with rice, plus three sides from a showcase that doubles as the front counter.
One day I’ll stop in to try some old-school shrimp fried rice and Kung Pao chicken. So far, though, I’ve kept a fairly tight focus on the more basic noodle bowls, which for the most part are comforting and delicious.
I suggest starting with an order of xiaolongbao, the famous soup-filled pork dumplings steamed in bamboo baskets and served with a dipping sauce of black vinegar, soy and threads of fresh ginger. The pork dumplings are more than just a way to tease out your appetite while waiting for the main course: They are exemplary — a real-deal, from-scratch destination dish for xiaolongbao connoisseurs.
As for the soups, I’m still working my way through the formidable selection, so I’ll refrain from sweeping generalizations about the merits thereof. I can, however, endorse the spicy beef noodle soup, with its aromatic, gently prickly broth and ultra-tender chunks of shank.
“Pork and shrimp gravy noodle soup” sounded intriguing. But as the cashier advised, the so-called soup is not really a soup at all. It’s closer to a stew, with a thick, cornstarch-y sauce that’s a bit gelatinous at first but loosens up as the dish settles into itself. With its bamboo shoots, carrots, tofu skin, and earthy brown mushrooms, it was hearty and rib-sticking, though kind of generically Chinese tasting. Nothing terribly remarkable here. But man, for $9.25, you could almost feed a family of four with this tub o’ noodles and gravy.
The section titled “Stir Fried Noodles, Chow Fun and Rice” has never failed me. A dish of noodles with shredded chicken, peanut sauce, finely julienned cucumber and sesame seeds sounded like it should be served cold but was delicious warm. It hugged the inner peanut butter-loving kid in me; I suspect it will do the same for you.
Beef chow fun, made with ultra-wide, drunken (thanks to the soy sauce) noodles, was deeply, memorably satisfying. As were the sha cha beef noodles, tossed with tiny white mushrooms and bathed in an umami-rich “Taiwanese barbecue sauce” that gets its mojo, I believe, from a hint of fish sauce. (Both of these beef dishes were greasy in a good way, and I’m OK with that.) Shredded pork stir-fried noodles were also solid.
Couple of things to keep in mind: Dishes noted in red ink on the menu aren’t noticeably spicy; nor was the one that I requested with extra heat. Xiao’s Way purports to be a fast-casual restaurant, but if you are dining in, you are likely to be waved to the seating area, where you will be treated to table service.
Bottom line: Chinese-noodle lovers will find Xiao’s Way a welcome and dependable spot. The cuisine is not as refined as that of LanZhou Ramen and Gu’s Kitchen, but it has its moments.
XIAO’S WAY NOODLE HOUSE
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays-Mondays and Wednesdays-Thursdays. (Closed Tuesdays.) 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. 10450 Medlock Bridge Road, Suite 102, Johns Creek. 770-674-0980, xiaosway.com.
Recommended: Xiaolongbao. Spicy beef noodle soup. Noodles with shredded chicken and peanut sauce. Sha cha beef noodles. Beef chow fun.
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