Davis Noodle City
Davis Noodle City129 E St.
Davis, CA 95616
I am, I admit, very picky when it comes to Chinese food. I learned to stir-fry from little Chinese mothers and how to braise chilies in a kitchen in Chengdu, China. I like to think I know what authentic Chinese food is.
Surprisingly, truly authentic Chinese food can be found in a tiny, unassuming restaurant in Davis.
Davis Noodle City doesn’t look like much. It’s small, rustic and simple. The chairs and booths are rigid and not at all built for comfort—if you have back problems, you’re forewarned. However, the service is quick, polite and always happy to teach diners about the food.
What sets Davis Noodle City apart from other Chinese-food joints is the fact that most of its food is not Chinese-American, but true Chinese cuisine.
The wheat noodles are prepared on-site and crafted with deft skill. The result is a fat, chewy noodle that fills you up and absorbs the flavor of the broth so that every bite has texture and promise. (You may ask to substitute rice noodles if you’re gluten averse.)
Texture is truly the key here, since when it comes to Chinese cuisine, it’s just as valued as taste. How the mouth interacts with the food is paramount—it’s a style that encourages you to take pleasure in not just the flavors of what you’re eating, but the very act of mastication itself.
And DNC is spot-on with both flavor and texture.
Fried tofu arrives looking like deep-fried marshmallows. Beneath the crispy coating is a sweet, custardy center that billows with steam. A quick douse in the marinated soy sauce tempers the temperature, and with the next bite, all is well with the world.
The scallion pancakes are just that: bits of naanlike dough packed with slivered scallions. A popular street food in China and Korea, it takes skill to prepare these in a way so they’re light, crispy and not at all greasy. DNC nails it, and one mouthful takes me back to nights snacking on these along The Bund in Shanghai.
The Sichuan eggplant is a delight. The eggplant is velvety and soft, and you can’t help but just reach for more to experience the way it seems to melt on your tongue. The sauce tastes sweet and enticingly sour. Unlike the traditional way of using a fistful of chilies to prepare the dish, this one is subtle in heat. It’s intended for an American audience, and as such, is a caged lion, but DNC will take the lock off if you ask.
Expect no mercy when you do.
The noodle dishes are gargantuan and will be enough to feed a marathon runner adequately. The Five Spice Beef Noodle Soup features boulders of braised beef that fall apart in your mouth; the vegetables are toothsome and al dente.
The mustard-greens-noodle dish is a veritable salad for two of finely cut mustard greens posing as soup. The rafts of chicken are cooked to perfection and are softer than a kiss on the cheek. The broth comes off clean—tasting like the kind of comfort no common cold could stand up to.
Traditionalists may be a bit disappointed in the dan dan noodles. The original recipe has minced pork, Sichuan peppercorns and a heavy hand of chili oil. This is the American version of dan dan and has none of those touches. Instead, it’s heavy on the peanuts and the peanut sauce (possibly due to the addition of peanut butter). The result is much sweeter and not so savory. Still, it’s addicting, though you may want nuke it with an overeager squeeze of Sriracha sauce.
Oh, and the pork-chop-noodle soup—a big bowl of lightly spiced pork broth and noodles served with a deep-fried, slivered and seasoned pork cutlet. Crispy. Meaty. Satisfying. Yes.
Overall, DNC is the kind of food that takes me to days in those little kitchens in Beijing. Go in, order some noodles, and you’ll be transported, too.