The name says it all. A bowl of suan (sour) la (spicy) rice noodles (fen). Perfect for the waning days of fall, we've got some great steaming bowls of suan la fen (酸辣粉) to recommend--just remember to bring a packet of tissues for the inevitably runny nose.
Some Like it Hot
Tian Xia Di Yi Tese Fen (天下特色粉) is legendary among locals for having the best suanlafen in town—just beware of imposters like the copycat letdown we found on Chaoyangmen. We suggest going to the original and most authentic branches in Xidan. Be prepared to push your way through the crowd. Especially now that it’s winter, there is a guaranteed line. The suanlafen (RMB8) here will make you sweat. Its broth is so fiery, only true spice addicts would dare drink it all. These noodles include all the right components—hot chili soy paste made with diced Sichuan peppercorn, salty Chinese pickles, topped with peanuts and cilantro.
Hot and Sour Power
Though Meizhou Dongpo has many branches, we prefer the Tuanjiehu one, which has a nice contemporary atmosphere. This cheap little bowl (RMB4) might not look like much, but it packs a mean punch of spice, with heat that builds on your tongue. The noodles puff out to the perfect slippery texture and soak up the broth, which is just right for slurping. The soup is very balanced with just the right amount of hot and sour. The copious amounts of preserved pickles and green onion were very much appreciated.
Beauty and the Heat
Swanky contemporary Sichuan restaurant South Beauty is on the expensive side for Chinese food. However, on the back page of the menu are some cheap regular staples found at any local Sichuan xiaochi den. South Beauty keeps authentic flavors, with fresh ingredients. The soup is a dark romantic red, with peanuts vividly floating atop. The bowl looks small but is satisfying, packed with tons of glass noodles and the bountiful ingredients that integrate well together. The bokchoy is a nice leafy addition topped with the perfect portion of cilantro to give every other bite a refreshing cool taste compared to the stimulating tingle from Sichuan peppercorns.
And The Bowls That Fizzled
Chuan Ban: We really were expecting more from Chuan Ban. It came with peanuts, minced meat and the butt of a bokchoy leaf. We appreciated that the minced meat really added to the flavor of the broth, but the noodles were slightly thinner than usual and seemed a bit al dente. There just wasn’t anything that really stood out that we would expect if this is where the Sichuan government officials come to eat and party.
Mian Dui Mian: This place wasn’t terrible—as a noodle shop they can’t mess up too badly on suanlafen. The bowl was big and looked promising. The noodles were cooked but looked a bit crinkly and defective. It definitely has lots of chopped up red chilies but the sour acidity of the soup is too overpowering.