Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chen's Noodle House - Austin, TX


Hands down best Chinese meal I've ever had.  I'll qualify that by saying that the only Chinese food I've really ever had is the Americanized standard Chinese fare...Mongolian Beef, Orange Chicken, Sweet & Sour Pork, etc., and I'm pretty confident that this is the real deal.

Yep, hole in the wall.  Mr. Chen has put his money and effort into the food, and not the decor, and that's just fine.  One small room with a counter you walk up and order at, from a chalkboard English menu, a series of paddles with Chinese descriptions on them, or a sheet with pictures of the food on it, so take your pick.  Probably around ten tables in the place, all two person variety but can probably accommodate four.   Not exactly the place for a group lunch or a date, but an awesome dive for an awesome Chinese meal.

So I ordered lamb skewers and a side of scallion pancakes.  I've already said that this is the best Chinese meal I've ever had, and I'm going to also say that this is the best preparation of lamb I've ever had.  I've had a lot of lamb in my life, and I don't think I'm going out on a limb here in saying that.

Simple, I know, but the flavor was absolutely incredible.  Dry rubbed with what seemed to be a combination of chiles and cumin, or spices of the sort, it was earthy, spicy, and still let the intense flavor of lamb come through.  The meat itself was perfectly cooked.  Incredibly tender, incredibly flavorful, the drippings from it created the only condiment it needed.  It doesn't look like much, but eight skewers and four pieces each give you thirty two of these little pleasure nuggets, and combined with the pancakes made for a nice, but not too filling meal.  This is a Chinese meal you don't walk away from feeling sluggish.  Perfect in every way.  

The pancakes.  Wow.  Really, really good.  Tortilla meets flaky pie crust meets Mr. Chen and his green onions.  Very flaky, near crisp exterior with thin layers of soft pancake in the middle.  I'm not sure what you're supposed to do with these, but I dunked them in some sort of soy vinegar combination they had in a bottle I couldn't read, and they were fantastic.  I also tried them as a vehicle for the lamb, but decided that I liked the flavor of each dish better individually, with the flavor of one not masking the other.  

I'm going to hit this place again in the next week or so, because it was a difficult decision not to get the lamb noodle bowl, which looked and smelled incredible.   And if you're looking for quantity in addition to quality, this appears to be it.  The bowl is bigger than my head, and filled with a rich broth and thick cut, homemade noodles.  Looks unreal, and I look forward to my next report.


Atmosphere:  hole-in-the-wall, order at the counter, handful of small tables with uncomfortable chairs, good for a quick lunch or takeout dinner

Food:  authentic Chinese

Dog Friendly:  no

When to Go:  lunch, carryout for dinner

Crowd:  mixed, Chinese

What to Order for the First Timer:  lamb skewers and scallion pancakes

1 comment:

  1. Glad you found Chen's! What he does, he does well. I've convinced friends who were previously intimidated by the "authentic" feel of the place to go in and try it. My family and I have been dining there for a few years & were in fact in the restaurant during the Great Austin Hail Storm of March 2009. Our vehicles and Chen's still have the dents to prove it! :)

    If you liked your first taste of authentic Chinese food in Austin, you should try A+A Sichuan, which is a bit north up 183 in the Galleria Oaks strip center. A+A is quite large so there's plenty of seating. I recommend the Stir Fried Frog Legs!