The spate of previously obscure Shanxi/Xi'an restaurants opening across San Francisco has reached the Outer Sunset. Terra Cotta Warrior, arguably the most elegant of the bunch, is open and serving some of the most ethereal hand-rolled noodles known to humanity. The duopoly of Cantonese and Sichuan is eroding, fast.
A bowl of noodles in sizzling oil, along with chili oil and just enough scallions and mung beans, achieves virtual perfection even without protein, the chew intact down to the last greasy spoonful. Non-noodlehounds will find lots to love too, with a similarly flawless stir-fried lamb with cumin (wonderfully heavy on the onion and the jalapeño). Seafood is scarce — and while that's disappointing, it's not entirely surprising given Shanxi province is landlocked — but if one wishes to feast on pork, there are options aplenty. A $4.25 pork hot pepper burger, with lighter bread than Xi An Gourmet's, could even be a meal in itself.
Something has to be the least favorite, if only by default, and that was the Shanxi mian-pi, a cold variant of noodles that, while alluring for being a specialty of the region, was just a shade too limp and oily. But the other dishes more than made up for it. Plus the decor, lighting, plating, and service were all a cut above the typical Chinese restaurant in the Sunset, even though the prices are more than reasonable.
It's possible we just ordered the right things. It's likelier that Terra Cotta Warrior is extremely good, at the vanguard of a quiet trend. Impress your friends and take the N-Judah to the best noodles you've probably ever had.