After having been gone from LA for a few years, the one food item I missed the most (of many) was the beef roll, and the first restaurant trip I took was to the one spot I knew where to find it, 101 Noodle Express. As it turns out, 牛肉捲餅 niu rou juan bing is actually kinda hard to find. If anyone knows what kind of food nerd I am, they'll tell you that I fetishize that. Bring me the hard to find stuff!
But it wasn't all about nostalgia: I got to take a few first timers there as well, so it was a combination of discovery and re-discovery.
My friends and I started off with one of those shrink-wrapped liang ban cold mix appetizers in the deli case, which featured slivers of tofu, dried pork (almost certain it was pig ears but I could be mistaken) and scallions. It was a nice way to break the ice all around, as I've begun to really appreciate cold/roomtemp apps that still have a bit of kick to them.
Then the beef roll came, and it was a joy seeing the revelation on my dining partners' faces. I've long described the beef roll as a slightly thicker crepe, with sliced braised beef, scallions, cilantro, and a hoisin-like sauce, all rolled up like a Chinese burrito. Luckily, pictures are worth a thousand words, and tasting the beef roll is worth a thousand more.
A friend in the party was a little congested, so we went for the hot and spicy niu rou mian beef noodle soup. Someone mentioned that it reminded them of the boat noodles at Sapp Coffee Shop, and I totally see the comparison: a star anise broth, good spice, nice beef. I do want to begin exploring the niu rou mian of the San Gabriel Valley, so I figure this was good a start as any. As it stands now, I can't say how it rates among other niu rou mian variants, but it was definitely delicious and I'd recommend it to any visitor of 101.
Lastly, the dumplings arrived, and we sprung for the super succulent pork with pickled vegetables. The veg were finely diced and rolled into the pork ball, giving it a nice sour note with each bite, and while it wasn't a soup dumpling, there were more than a few explosive moments between the dumpling and I. Rather than pouring some mix of soy or vinegar, I just dipped the dumplings in the hot and spicy broth that was available.
Four dishes added up to a few coins short of $25, feeding three hungry people pretty well. There was a slight wait, but nothing out of the ordinary for a weekend. It's good to be back, and I'm thrilled I finally got to satisfy a craving a few years in the making.