Excellent house-made noodles lend distinction to many of the nicely priced dishes influenced by the cuisine of Western China served in this interesting and welcome newcomer
That 1990 Depeche Mode song “Enjoy the Silence” ironically broke the silence inside an eatery that I was visiting just before a delicious lamb-and-rice dish was brought to me. My server placed the heaving entree near a tiny vase with a little flower — both assembled from Legos — that adorned the table.
The mostly rice meal (it's called Signature Rice Pilaf; $12) came with a spoon and also exhibited an amusing sculptural quality: It was an oil-enriched, trapezoidal rice mound dotted with succulent lamb pieces, raisins, potatoes, carrots, peppers and onions.
Welcome to Xi Xia Western Chinese Cuisine, one of the more interesting and distinct Chinese restaurants to open in town recently.
Happily confounding my prima facie expectations, Xi Xia Western Chinese Cuisine doesn't specialize in Westernized Chinese food. Instead, it focuses on the food of Western China, which has the largest percentage of Muslims in the country, many of whom are Uighurs.
That's why lamb is on the menu — the aforementioned pilaf is an Uighur classic — but pork is not. Other Western Chinese-style favorites prevalent on Xi Xia's easy-to-navigate menu: chilies, garlic and terrific house-made wheat noodles, which improve every dish in which they appear.
Before ordering any item graced with these, expect free snacks. Shortly after settling into a wooden table in the restaurant's understated, modern and tidy space, which features light gray brick walls brightened by a charming mural — a nature scene painted in pale fanciful colors — you'll be given piles of edamame and seaweed. The latter will be splattered with soy sauce and perhaps scented with garlic and chili, and maybe knotted into bows. Such hospitality is characteristic at Xi Xia, which offers friendly, speedy service and gracefully corrects its occasional errors.
All of the place's appetizers are sizable, fried and — like most of its fare — a bargain. The crisp, breaded and crowd-pleasing Salt and Pepper Chicken ($7) is five-spice-powdered nuggets that resemble chicken karaage, a preparation popular in Japanese eateries. Although rather oily, I also enjoyed the flavors of the scallion-accented, hand-filled Beef Fried Dumplings ($6) and the Handmade Spring Rolls ($5.50), but I wish the crisp spring rolls had been hot in their centers.
Fans of lo mein will find the Xi Xia Fried Noodles ($11) to be quite similar to that takeout favorite — only with a serious noodle upgrade and a fiery infusion of chilies. The pleasant, stir-fried assembly also contains broccoli, snow peas, tender beef and chicken slices, plus plump, good-tasting shrimp.
Most of the noodle dishes benefit from a livening splash of tableside black vinegar, and that includes the highly recommended Xi Xia Stirred Noodles ($11). This dish also benefits from being stirred. That way, its flavorful pockets of five-spice-scented, thinly sliced beef, raw garlic, chili oil, cilantro, spinach, bean sprouts, snow peas and house oyster sauce can marry into a harmonious union.
A soy-marinated, hard-cooked egg and Xi Xia's delightfully firm, extremely comforting house noodles are the most memorable elements of the Signature Beef Noodles ($12). I mostly enjoyed this soup entree with sliced beef, transparent daikon disks, tofu, chili oil, scallion and cilantro, but I'd like it better if its broth offered more flavor.
I suppose the killer Spicy Sichuan Dry Hot Pot ($16) could come with noodles rather than rice, but otherwise making it better would a tall order. The built-for-two knockout features a soy-based sauce with the telltale Sichuan numb-and-sting quality supplied by Sichuan peppercorns and chilies. Among the multitude of goodies ignited by this are tender pieces of beef, chicken and cuttlefish, plus deep-fried tofu wedges, tofu-skin bundles, sweet head-on shrimp, enoki mushrooms and crisp slices of lotus root.