It's a good sign when you see Chinese people from the motherland eating in a Chinese restaurant. It's even more legit when the comrades are smoking outside. Are we in Beijing? Actually, we're eating noodles at 808 Sheridan.
Wait, what happened to our beloved Chengdu Taste? We're told by the staff that the kitchen was too small for them and they couldn't even use the front counter, so they're moving upstairs and will reopen in early summer. Meanwhile, they kept it in the family and turned the original space into Mian, a Chongqing-style noodle house opened by Tony Xu, the same chef behind Chengdu Taste — both popular chains in California. "Mian" means noodles in Chinese, and the kitchen they have is more suited to the food they serve.
We went in, ordered in Mandarin (okay, Will Chen ordered in Mandarin while I nodded my head), and had several bowls of noodles, dumplings, and appetizers with some members of the Hawaii Chinese Secret Dinner Society. After a frenzied dinner of chopsticks flying and bowls quickly passed with methodical rhythm, some favorites emerged.
If you're Chinese, there's a pretty good chance you grew up with this comfort food. My mom made it all the time, but I have to admit, Mian makes it better. The egg is silker, like tofu, while the pork has a more intense saltiness with just a very slight hint at sweet. Sorry, Ma!
They call this "pork mouth," but we're pretty sure they mean the jowl. It's a nice accompaniment to the spicy noodles, as the pork helps to mellow out the heat, and the heat balances the fattiness. The stuff that looks like sawdust is fried crispy garlic, and that's also a very nice touch to give some texture and flavor.
If this is your first time and you're not sure what to try first, try the zajiang mian, a very popular standard in such restaurants. It's topped with ground pork, green onions, and a fried egg, all of which balance out the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppers.
This one emerged as one of my and Will's favorites; in fact, after my first bite, I exclaimed, "I would order this again!" The gizzards are sliced up to make them easier to eat with the noodles, and they're served in a special "secret sauce." It still has the same Sichuan spiciness that you have in all the other dishes, but the gizzards — and I assume, that secret sauce — punch up the flavor just a little more so you get another layer of umami in your mouth.
The spicy cold noodles are nice in Hawaii's hot weather. These are topped with crushed peanuts, spicy sauce, and green onions — and have no soup.
I know this is a noodle joint, but when we got to the won ton and dumplings, Jennifer Lieu and I proclaimed it most delicious! The spicy sauce has a hint of sweetness, and the saltiness of the pork inside completely balances out all the flavors. These were so good that I immediately got frustrated, knowing that I would be craving that flavor in my mouth the next day. And sure enough, I did. I still do.
We also had the spicy radish appetizer, wood ear fungus, and their famous sweet iced jelly — all adequate, not all photogenic. We also had the hot and sour soup, which is not my favorite, but I'm sure people who prefer tart flavors will enjoy it. If you want to see the rest of my photos, click here.
Like Chengdu Taste, Mian is super craveable and the service is actually polite and attentive. I can't really say anything bad about this place except that they close on Tuesdays. Since when does a Chinese business ever close? Unheard of. You pay rent 365, you open 365! I'm not sure whose decision it was to give a day off, but since they're all Chinese, I know I don't have to tell them that their comrades are all frowning in disapproval over that. And after you get a taste of Mian, you'll be lobbying for them to be open every day, too.
808 Sheridan St.