When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Shaanxi Chinese Restaurant
Location: 67 North Dobson Road, #109, Mesa
Open: Less than a month
Eats: Shaanxi-style noodles, stews, dumplings, barbecue, and more
Price: $10-25 per person
Is there a more exciting place to eat in metro Phoenix right now than the southeast Valley? Mesa and Chandler are incubating some of the area's most interesting and exciting new Chinese restaurants. Many of these new spots are bringing some regional Chinese dishes and flavors to the Valley for the first time.
The latest example of this happy trend is Shaanxi Chinese Restaurant, a new Mesa restaurant that comes to us, in part, from the folks who transformed Chandler's former House of Eggroll (now known as Let's Eat Noodles) into a nationally recognized Chinese restaurant.
Shaanxi, which is located in a shopping center near the intersection of Dobson and Main Street in Mesa, specializes in the boldly flavored cooking of northwestern China's Shaanxi province.
Shaanxi — land of the Silk Road, ancient feudal dynasties, and one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, the Terracotta Army necropolis — is closely associated with wide, thick noodles; pungent and complex spicy-sour flavors that sometimes border on spicy; and the use of pork and mutton.
That diversity is reflected on the restaurant's menu, which is pretty exhaustive and spans more than 50 dishes, including soup, dumplings, plenty of offal dishes, barbecue, and handmade noodles.
You know you're in the right spot when you come upon two terracotta warrior statues, which are posted near the front door of the restaurant. On a recent night in December, the warriors were cheerfully dressed up in Santa hats.
Shaanxi has a spacious and modern dining room, with ample group-friendly seating; a sizable bar in the back; and a small stage for live entertainment.
Service was cheerful and attentive during dinner recently. My server recommended the Shaanxi-style chicken as a starter. The highly seasoned chicken, sliced into neat strips, was a marvel of contradictions: gently crispy on the outside, exceptionally tender and moist on the inside. It was served with two sweet and sour sauces, and a bright and salty dry spice mix that, used sparingly, punches up the chicken with even more salty, peppery flavor.
From the cold noodle section of the menu, liangpi cold skin noodles features thick noodles and bean sprouts tossed in a tangy, vinegary sauce, which is subtly perfumed with cinnamon and star anise. The thick, chewy noodles are compelling on their own, but it's the aromatic and sophisticated sauce that really makes this dish memorable. The only caveat here is that, on a recent visit, the dish was missing the pleasantly spongy gluten cubes commonly served with the dish, and which are described on the menu.
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"Fresh Encounters in the Tang Dynasty," a warming pork meatball soup featuring a savory and lovely herb-scented broth, is another house specialty. It's an enormous basin of soup tricked out with slips of chewy pork skin, mushrooms, creamy hunks of tofu, and savory pork slices. The dish exudes the same kind of wholesome properties you might associate with a hearty bowl of chicken soup.
One of the most compelling draws at Shaanxi is the restaurant's menu of handmade noodles. Top billing here goes to the restaurant's take on Shaanxi's famed biangbiang noodles: flat, broad, hand-pulled noodles that are traditionally described as "wide as a belt." The broad, silky noodles, dampened with saucy tendrils of deeply savory, slow-roasted pork, are distinctly and pleasantly chewy.
Shaanxi's large menu offers much to explore — next up, I'm looking forward to diving into the restaurant's enticing selection of Shaanxi street staples, which includes the likes of barbecue kebabs and rou jia mo, commonly described as "Chinese hamburgers."
Thanks to new spots like Shaanxi, the East Valley's repertoire of regional Chinese cooking is now bigger and tangibly richer, and we can all take pleasure in that.