Yang’s Noodles5860 Stockton Blvd.
Chinese food is endlessly complex and diverse. I’m Chinese from my mom’s side (via Taiwan), and I’ve been eating Chinese food the greater part of three decades—yet I never seem to get beyond scratching the surface of the national cuisine’s vast culinary history and tradition.
Much has been written about the “Eight Schools” of Chinese food: Anhui, Guangdong (Canton), Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejiang. But this neglects other regional styles: Beijing, Hakka, Mongolian, Shanghai, Tibetan, Xinjiang and Taiwanese cuisine—the latter of which is served at Yang’s Noodles. Adding yet another twist, Yang’s Noodles doesn’t even serve traditional Taiwanese food—stuff like “glutinous pancakes with oysters and egg, glutinous rice with minced meat, and mushrooms steamed in hollow bamboo stalks”—according to my mom, who grew up there.
Confused? Me too. So, I asked my mom to clarify. She told me that after the communist takeover of mainland China in the late 1940s, a lot of Chinese people backing the Kuomintang (a.k.a. China’s Nationalist Party) moved to Taiwan, including my family.
“Taiwan is [a] melting pot of the provincial food from all over mainland China, so when you go to so-called Taiwanese restaurants, [they] usually [serve] specialty dishes originating from the North or the Northeast (soy milk, [green onion] pancake, dumplings, beef noodle soup) or Shanghai (steamed small [Chinese buns], stir fried [rice cakes]),” she wrote in a surprisingly detailed email. “You won’t find dim sum in Taiwanese restaurants though; that’s strictly Cantonese.”
Enough history, already. I came here because Yang’s Noodles is the only place in town I know of that serves niu rou jian bing (sliced beef rolls)—a specialty of northern China—and the ones at Yang’s hit the spot. The dish is basically the Chinese version of a burrito: meat (thinly sliced beef marinated in soy sauce) plus veggies (diced green onion, cucumber and cilantro) wrapped in a large, flat and circular carbohydrate crepe (a thin Chinese pancake made out of flour, water and green onion). I also sampled the niu rou shao bing, a more sandwichlike version of the same dish, with the sliced beef and veggies placed inside a baked sesame flatbread. It doesn’t quite pack the same complicated punch of flavor.
Elsewhere on the menu, Yang’s eponymous noodles are homemade, alkaline and chewy. They are featured in both the niu rou mian, a hearty beef noodle soup with roots in the Muslim Chinese minority group, the Hui; and zha jiang mian, a black-bean and ground-pork noodle dish found in the both Sichuan and Beijing styles of cooking. I highly recommend the niu rou mian—which tasted similar to a beef stew made by the Muslim Cham people of Southeast Asia, and called bo kho in Vietnam and kor ko in Cambodia. At Yang’s, it’s one of those soups you might imagine hugging your insides on a particularly cold day.
Additionally, Yang’s serves Shanghai-style dumplings. The ones I tried—xiao long bao (a pork dumpling) and a chive dumpling—both didn’t disappoint but also didn’t stand out.
To round out my experience, I paired one of my lunchtime meals at Yang’s with a bowl of hot soy milk, a sweet and soothing beverage for a cold day.
All this—plus catering and a separate, more Americanized Chinese-food menu—from a mom-and-pop eatery with only one chef and one server. Caution: A sign out front reads “QQ Express,” but the restaurant’s name is definitely Yang’s Noodles. And there are only a few tables, so the place often fills up quickly. That’s not surprising though, given how unique the food here is compared to the rest of Sacramento’s Chinese restaurants, which are mostly Guangdong style. Yang’s Noodles aims for something different and succeeds.