Xi'an Famous Foods at Four
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In other words, food is not the first famous association that springs forth. But Xi'an Famous Foods (XFF) is out to change that in NYC, taking the city by storm with a "chain-let" of nine shops.
At present, the XFF just south of W. 102nd on the west side of Broadway is the northernmost outpost of the lot.
Then, a new XFF opened exactly four years ago on December 7, 2013, in Bloomingdale.
Gratuitously, the XFF website disparages the neighborhood it moved into claiming the stretch of Broadway was "not so happening." And, golly, thanks to all those followers who came crawling from four corners to support them here in lil' ol' Bloomingdale.
The French have an expression for this perfect inelegance: "cracher dans la soupe" -- literally to spit in one's soup and figuratively to express contempt for something from which you derive a benefit. The site reads like an apologia for their cost-benefit analysis that this affordable rent district (albeit deathy, deathly unhip) was cheap enough to make it worth impinging on its clientele's comfort zone and profitable enough to take the space. I've seen trash talk of gentrifiers all over the city, and it is cringe producing.
I remember moving to Bloomingdale in the 90s after falling in love with the community and admiring the quiet stretch of Broadway only to have a friend tell me she got a nosebleed over 96th Street, or was it 86th Street. She lives near DC now -- outside the Beltway -- in altitudes that are favorable to her fragile nasal condition.
So to Xi'an, I say: embrace your community and blunt the "edgy" a little.
But I digress. Let's get back to why XFF has made it to the neighborhood food feature I call "Hyper-Local Eats."
Years back, I thrilled at the idea of having XFF's handmade noodles on my home turf. We ordered in a couple of times, ate there once or twice. All good. Still somehow Xi'an didn't become a go-to spot. Yet they've endured. So today I turn the other cheek despite how bossy they can come off in their pursuit of converting us all to the pleasures of noodlehood:
So I write in celebration of a very special Hyper-Local Eat: Xi'an's spicy cumin lamb burger. A nosh under $6 that is truly, maddenly, deeply satisfying.
Caveat emptor: it is fiery. But if you tried and liked Szechuan Garden's cumin lamb (an earlier Hyper-Local Eats feature), the Xi'an burger clocks in at approximately the same heat.
This burger is, in fact, not a patty, but it does have a bun, which I'll get to shortly. The sandwich is a hill of shaved slices of tender lamb roughly chopped into a coarse picadillo-like or sloppy joe-ish filling that is then spooned into the bread pocket.
How does it taste? First salty. Then tangy. Then a rage of cumin and fire mix with the gamey lamb. Melted onions and snappy jalapeños round out the chewy hash to which an accelerant of chili oil is added just to make it pop.
Not even an ice-cold Coca-Cola can tame the tongue when this hits.
Enter the bun. It sops up the spicy drippings and provides a firewall to your tastebuds. The bread is not a bun you know. It's a denser cousin of an English muffin whose nooks and crannies went missing or seized up. Without a hint of richness, the bun stands bravely by to foil the oil.
If you think you can tolerate this degree of hipness mixed with this degree of heat, the spicy cumin lamb burger is a fine, fine eat in the neighborhood.
Now XFF, if you would just drop the pretense and lean into the fact that this wonderful community existed before you and will continue long after you are gone, in the interim we could all live together in umami harmony.