Smooth ‘n Chewy Lanzhou Beef Noodles at Chi Men on Denman

Chi Men on Denman opened up in late July 2017 in the former Chelicious space, and has been quietly ladling out some really good soup noodles to a barely appreciative West End audience. It hasn’t been busy in there, but they deserve to be. With 3 Quarters Full Taiwanese Cafe (located in Denman Place Mall) still around after a full year in business, looks like the West End might just have the right clientelle to keep these kinds of Asian restaurants in business. Maybe. Winter is coming.

The hard-to-Google Chi Men has kept the basic layout of the space the same. They’ve walled-up the kitchen area though, and added a residential door, so you can’t really see the action in the kitchen. A minor shame.

Not sure if they fully understand the significance of the rainbow flag…

Lanzhou noodle is a Chinese beef noodle soup that’s sorta rare in Vancouver. Some places might serve something like this, but as far as Google is concerned, they’re not calling it “Lanzhou noodle”. AFAIK, the only other place in Vancouver that specifically serves Lanzhou noodle is Kung Fu Noodle on Seymour near Georgia. I haven’t tried it.

They’ve got a cutesy anime/manhua thing happening. Besides soup noodles, they also do charcoal bbq.

“Stytle.”

Ignore this noodle thickness scale posted on the window. It’s inconsistent with the scale used on the actual menu inside.

Same photos of the food as posted on their Instagram account.

Ready for some northwestern Chinese food?

“My blood type is tea.”

The drawings of the staff members are adorable!

Their mural actually rocks. These figures are also on their business cards.

View of Denman St. I’d guess this place seats about 20 people? We dined around 6:00pm and it was dead. By the time we left around 8:00pm, one other group had eaten and left, and another group was just getting settled in to eat. And one staff member sat by herself to eat her small dinner of just a grilled eggplant.

If you’re worried about the staff’s level of English, it was perfectly serviceable, even good.

The noodle menu. IMPORTANT: the top three options are the Lanzhou soup noodles, the bottom options are dry mixed noodles that have vegetarian options. (Be aware that they seem to be playing fast and loose with the definition of “vegetarian”.)

Noodle width scale (in millimetres) and the charcoal bbq skewer section of the menu. They only had 5mm and 1.5mm widths available on this night. I wanted the Mutton Shashlik but they didn’t have it 🙁 The name “shashlik” shows the Middle Eastern influence over the food from this part of China.

Other dishes, including out-of-season spot prawns.

Cold side dishes.

Sturdy chopstick rest.

Chili oil, black pepper, salt, wifi password, and soy sauce.

The oddest napkins I’ve seen in a restaurant. They’re actually tissues! Very nose-friendly for when you indulge in the spicy stuff.

I for one can’t wait to use my Diners Club card, once I get my time machine working. If you flash me your Diners Club card in public, I’ll buy you a beer! But really, if you have a Diners Club card, you’re the one who should be buying me a beer, you Visa Infinite reject.

I went with trusty Moyenchow and Grayelf, a longtime Chowhounder, so we were able to order a couple different noodles and some dishes to share.

ADDENUM: read Moyenchow’s review of this place here.

My #1 – Traditional Beef Noodle Soup ($12.75) with 5mm noodles. Price is definitely on the higher side for this kind of noodle soup, but this is Denman St. There’s actually more beef than it looks like in the photo. For some reason they’ve started cutting the shanks into cubes instead of slices like in their early Instagram photos. (Also, every internet reference to Lanzhou noodles shows slices as well.) You could probably debate endlessly about the advantages of cubes over slices and vice versa, but even just visually, I prefer slices in a soup noodle.

(I assume the cut is shank because every recipe for Lanzhou beef noodles says “shank”.)

The soup is light, clear, and pretty flavourful. I couldn’t detect much MSG, if any. Overall, the dish has an appealing lightness to it, as opposed to heavy richness. Even with the chili oil that comes with this bowl, the spiciness is minimal.

The noodles are excellent. Slippery smooth on the outside and chewy with lots of body and heft. They make these noodles in-house and they’ve got a great density to them. Instead of hand-pulling these noodles like how every online reference to Lanzhou noodles shows, they form the dough and put it through a machine to cut them into different widths. I imagine it’s a similar process to making pasta. Whether the cutting versus hand-pulling makes a difference, I can only guess. I feel like this soup noodle is completely different from what hand-pulled noodle places like Shaolin and Legendary Noodle do, so a direct comparison is hard.

Daikon slices gently cooked from the heat of the soup.

Every frickin’ soup spoon should have this thing at the end!

#2 – Garlic Pickled Beef Noodle Soup ($13.75) with 1.5mm noodles. Same beef cubes as my noodle. The beef isn’t actually “garlic pickled”, it merely refers to the dark green pickled vegetables.

This was their thinnest noodle but it still elicited much pleasure. The soup is light, clear, and clean.

The same pickled vegetable beef noodle except with 5mm noodles.

Foot Long Squid ($12.75). Simply grilled, and hit that mark between chewy and tender. Competent.

The squid was served with a sweet chili sauce that resembled the Thai sweet chili sauce you might’ve seen in Asian markets. I like it in small doses as it’s quite syrupy.

BBQ Eggplant ($4.95) cooked over charcoal (apparently — I couldn’t see into the kitchen). Cooked until very soft, and sprinkled with a cumin/turmeric/curry powder-type mixture. Good but not the type of dish I’d go crazy over.

Chinese Garlic Bread ($3.45), also apparently cooked over charcoal. This was an amazing surprise. Really impressed. Flat and crispy tops sprinkled with chili, cumin, and sesame seeds on one side…

…and smeared with mashed garlic on the underside! Soft fluffy bao texture inside. Really great stuff. The flavours work so well together. Also great dipped into your soup! Do it!

Washroom cleaning schedule. I think it’s a sign that they’re trying hard. I hardly ever see these posted in Asian restaurants — and if they are, I can totally see (and smell) that they’ve given up. Here, they actually do the work.

I’m not experienced enough to tell whether this place serves the real-deal authentic Lanzhou noodle, but going by the taste alone, it’s damn good.

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