For most people, it should be easy to tell between a dried and fresh product. Noodles are no exception, however most restaurants of any type tend to use dried noodles and pasta for their dishes. Subsequently, few people have ever had really fresh noodles. 101 Noodle Express gives it's diners a chance to try fresh, hand-made noodles. Not only that, on many of their noodle soups, they give the option of cut noodles or hand-torn noodles. The hand torn noodles may not be beautiful, but the tender-chewiness of them, the texture that is very different from dried noodles and the fact that they were made just before going into your soup gives a unique treat. For most people who have never had anything but dried noodles and pasta, it is an eye-opening experience.
101 Noodle Express is the Irvine outpost of a four location Chinese noodle house, located in the 99 Ranch Market Plaza at Jerffrey and Walnut. The menu consists of many varieties of noodles and dumplings, all made from scratch at a central kitchen. An absolute necessity to try first is the beef roll. This appetizer is encased in a house-made chinese dough pancake and looks like a large burrito, slightly grilled. Inside, however, are thin slices of beef, hoisin sauce and fresh herbs. It has an excellent taste, something similar to moo shu but more delicate and not drippy. the pancake is thin but sturdy, keeping all the goodness in. It does come with a dipping sauce which is not really necessary. The flavor is superb all by itself.
There are several pages of noodles, steam and fried dumplings, buns and pancakes. Almost every table though has a steaming tureen of one of their signature noodle soups. These are available with beef, lamb, pork, chicken, sour vegetable or even pigs feet. Each table has small soup bowls and spoons so the diners can share soups. This is where you get your option of regular cut or hand torn noodles. Besides the texture and flavor of the fresh noodles, you can look at them and see thousands of years of history going back to when noodles were originally made by tearing and not machine cut with dies. The broths are rich and full flavored. The lamb broth is light but with that long simmered taste of lamb. A few nice pieces of lamb fill the bowl. It is all about the noodles though, and they really shine. The spicy beef broth has a kick but is not overpowering, letting the beefy taste come through. These are definitely sharing soups so you can get the variety that is available.
Service is excellent at the Irvine location, with smiles from the servers, joking and the kind of treatment usually only received at a place where someone might be a regular. This is the kind of place to take a large group in order to try more of the items on the menu. Not only is it fun, but it is a different take on what most people think of as “Chinese food”. Especially on a cool winter's eve, it is the perfect dinner.
101 Noodle Express
5408 Walnut Ave. #A
Irvine, CA 92604
Other locations in Alhambra, Arcadia and Culver City