The Unvegan

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Rolling Away with 101 Noodle Express

Roll with it

It’s not too often that food court food gains critical acclaim. Yet, in the case of 101 Noodle Express (my favorite college course), the only reason I went was by recommendation from Jonathan Gold. Like KyoChon, 101 Noodle Express can be found at the Fox Hills Mall, but also in other places where you would expect it more – like the San Gabriel Valley. Almost as surprising as finding such a place in a food court is the fact that Gold doesn’t even recommend the noodles.

Gotta keep ’em separated.

Instead, the Beef Rolls are said to be all the rage. To test this claim, I ordered half of a roll. A product of Shandong, China, the roll consists of a pancake (like the scallion variety, but without the scallions), bean sauce, thinly sliced beef, cilantro and “onion.” I ordered mine without the onion, but the woman at the counter told me that meant I had to sacrifice the cilantro as well because they were mixed together. I wasn’t happy to lose the cilantro, but it is worth it drop the onion out. It was only when I got my order that I learned the onion was actually green onion. I’m not a fan, but it is certainly acceptable when mixed with cilantro. I got a side of it to test out and also some hot peppers to mix my roll if I needed.

Bring on the heat!

Without the cilantro, the three slices of roll looked like a cinnamon bun gone wrong. The taste, though, was nothing like one. The pancake had an almost tortilla-esque quality to it except that it provided flavor to the roll instead of simply being a conduit. Inside, the beef was tender and flavorful, with the beans adding another burst of contrasting flavor. Had this been the full roll, I would have been a happy man, but I decided I had to try the cilantro-onion and hot pepper mixes I had on the side. This proved to be a wise choice, as these extra flavors provided extra balance and texture to an already superb roll. Would the cilantro mix have been better without the green onions? Most certainly, but they were worth having if it meant I had cilantro to go with my roll.

While it is hard to call a mall food court a destination, the one-two punch of 101 Noodle Express really does change that notion. For west siders like me, it is whole lot easier to get to Fox Hills than Koreatown or San Gabriel. While I can’t vouch for the differences between the neighborhood locations and the mall ones, I can certainly say they left me satisfied.