There is a Chinese restaurant in Mesa that has a really good hamburger. Don’t believe me?
I’m not messing with you — the Shaanxi pork hamburger is really one of the best things on the menu at Taste of Qin, along with the savory Chinese crepes and the beef burrito. It may sound like fusion food, but these items are 100% Chinese, and are hallmarks of the cuisine of the northwestern province of Shaanxi.
These street foods are usually side dishes, because the main course is a big bowl of garlicky noodles with a fierce blend of chili and vinegar spice.
While it still hasn’t hit the mainstream, Shaanxi cuisine is gaining prominence in the U.S. because of its culinary rock star, biang biang noodles. These thick belt-like beauties have been popularized by New York restaurant Xi’an Famous Foods and Valley spots like Shaanxi Garden in Mesa.
Now there’s a newcomer in the house: Taste of Qin, which makes several varieties of wheat noodles from scratch. Put this one on your list, because the tiny little takeout joint offers some of the best noodles in Arizona.
This takeout spot serves Shaanxi and Sichuan dishes
The Mesa restaurant is basically a little room with a desk at the end flanking the kitchen. That’s where owner Stella Gao hangs out. She’ll be your guide to the menu, which you’ll most likely appreciate very much, as it’s a little intimidating for non-Mandarin speakers.
There’s a lot going on, with a long list of customizable noodle dishes and lots of rare items that you might not recognize listed with little description other than “chicken knee soft bone” or “pork intestine casserole.”
One of the restaurant’s chefs is from Shaanxi, and the other is from the Sichuan province of China, so you’ll see a mixture of both styles on the menu, in addition to Chinese American staples like fried rice and cashew chicken.
On my first visit I stuck to the spectacular noodles and Shaanxi street foods, but it’s important to note that Taste of Qin also offers a style of hot pot called cold skewer pot, where diners dip skewers of meat and veggies in a spicy cold broth. There’s also an interesting section of the menu titled “handmade ice jelly,” where you can build your own dessert with toppings like wolfberry, mini mochi, sweet fermented rice and more.
Order the ‘sliced from the machine’ noodles
Since the place is tiny, many will probably swing by for takeout noodles, which the restaurant makes in three varieties including the fat and chewy hand-shredded biang biang.
Gao told me you can order these with any noodle dish, and upon her suggestion I went with the tomato, egg and ground pork with special oil. The noodles were doughier than you’ll find at other restaurants, with uneven crags that caught the spicy oil on top. Make sure to mix these well, because they do give you a fair amount of oil, which tends to pool at the bottom with the black vinegar if you’re not careful.
Honestly, I much preferred the thinner style of wheat noodles that go by the name “sliced from the machine.” I ordered them with a spicy stir fry of pepper chicken and cabbage. The noodles were still wide, but had a lighter texture and were more slippery on my chopsticks, almost like edible ribbons. The pepper chicken was an alluring combination of spicy chili sauce that smacked of soy and loads of red and green peppers.
This was one of the best noodle dishes I’ve tasted in the Valley, so it’s definitely worth going out of the way for.
But don’t sleep on the fabulous Shaanxi street foods like the savory Chinese crepes, also known as jian bing. Black sesame seeds and cilantro are pressed into the whisper-thin dough, which is fried up to a crispy brown around the edges. They’re stuffed with a thin layer of sliced ham and lettuce, but you can also add more toppings, like the hard boiled eggs tinged with spices that I had stuffed in there.
And then there’s the Shaanxi pork hamburger. It’s not really a hamburger in the traditional sense of the word. There’s no ground beef patty, but in traditional Shaanxi style it’s a spiced blend of stewed pork belly, sandwiched in between a homemade bread that tastes like a mix between pita and an English muffin.
Rip it out of the little paper bag and scarf it down before you dig into the noodles. It’s rather saucy, so no ketchup required.
Taste of Qin
Where: 2120 W. Guadalupe Road, Ste.12.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday, closed Wednesday.
Price: House specials $5.99-$12.99; handmade noodles $9.99-$14.99; skewer pot $19.99 plus toppings.
Details: 480-686-2649, tasteofqinmesa.com.