It’s easy to drive right by 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra if you don’t speak Chinese. At the strip mall where it’s at, the Chinese is prominently featured on the main sign. The words “101 Noodle Express” are in smaller print and off to the side. Even standing right in front of the restaurant itself you can miss its small compact English name. Best to look for the strip mall with the bowling alley in the center (though that place appears to be closed for business.)
Once you’re in find a table quick. This place really fills up at lunch time. I was lucky to grab the last available and sit down. The interior is a slick version of a neighborhood joint. There are framed glossy posters of signature dishes and an HD display of the lamb soup.
But one dish in particular 101 Noodle Express is known for, the Beef Roll (Niu Ruo Juan Bing.) The dish is simple but the execution perfect. A thin flour pancake, beautifully toasted with golden brown spots all over its surface, is slathered with a hoisin-like sauce, sliced beef that’s been cooked fork tender and plenty of cilantro. The whole thing is then rolled into a tube like a burrito or sandwich wrap. You get two mammoth rolls for one order costing $6.75. Each one is cut into three pieces the size of a McDonald’s cheeseburger. But the golden arches doesn’t have anything that can compete with the Beef Roll in terms of flavor. The pancake is nicely crispy. The meat is falling apart tender. It had bits of tendon and connective tissue cooked soft giving the beef even more richness and flavor. The hoisin sauce was sweet with a slight tang like good BBQ sauce but with a little pungency from the fermented beans, it went perfectly with the cilantro.
For those wanting more of a spicier kick to their meal, there is the usual chili oil at your table side but also something else, a green “salsa” made of cilantro and finely diced green chili. It packs a real punch. I tried some of it on the Beef Roll and it gave it a nice burn but honestly I loved the sweet rich flavor of the roll on its own.
The Beef Roll is more than enough for one person, but I went a little overboard and also ordered the Dalu Noodle. It arrived in a huge bowl. In appearance the soup resembled the Hot and Sour soup my family makes, a thickened broth with egg “rags” floating throughout. But there was no vinegar or white pepper in this soup. Instead there was a pile of noodles, cabbage, and tender pork. It was seasoned with ginger and had wood ear tree fungus in it. It was simple, hearty and filling. It would be a great soup to have in the middle of winter.
The soup cost $5.99. With the Beef Roll, my lunch could have fed 6 people (a Chinese soup-and-sandwich meal) for under $14.
When you’re on Valley Blvd. in Alhambra keep your eyes peeled for 101. It would be a shame to drive right by this one.
101 Noodle Express
1408 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
Price Range: Between $4.99 and $7.50 for most dishes.