Kid Hit Menu Items: The photo-loaded menu itself at Alhambra’s 101 Noodle Express is a feast for small eyes and big appetites. Even if there’s a warning that they’re merely “for reference,” pictures are always good, right? Images of luminous steamed dumplings and golden, burnished pan-fried ones beckon from the page. Be prepared to hear a lot of “I want THAT!” accompanied by vigorous pointing. Modest bowls crammed with meats, noodles and soup, and the famous massive beef rolls laced with cilantro, AKA the Chinese burrito, BEG to be ordered. All are foods my kids adore. Fortunately, not too many icky veggies are pictured, and most of the green shown is dainty, wispy cilantro. We also got one serving of XLBs, which for whatever reason my youngest decided to start calling in all earnestness “soup ducklings.” (I’ll be sad when he gives up this malaprop, as I am when my kids learn to correct whatever cute mispronunciations they stubbornly stick to that I intentionally — and perhaps selfishly — let slide.) The original unglamorous 101 Noodle Express location in Alhambra isn’t mostly about noodles, nor is it primarily a take-out operation; but it certainly IS a whole lot of other amazing stuff that will bring us back.
Adult Perks: My eldest is particularly obsessed with a certain forbidden fruit — soda. So taking home our friend’s Diet Coke can was the exciting treat of the night, and the only other beverage we washed down our feast with was hot tea, which he also managed to drink most of and they were too busy to refill. (Grumble grumble.)
Pros: Brightly colored plastic dishes showed up immediately after we were seated. Smart move, 101 Noodle Express. Clearly they’re experts at handling families and kids, and the fact that everything is under ten bucks helps, too. Or rather, helps enable my reckless ordering! After a couple dishes made a quick appearance, the rest of the food hit the table fast and furious, with almost no room on the surface to spare. Maybe because it’s not Din Tai Fung (I made the inevitable gringo comparison, sorry) and XLBs aren’t the obvious thing at 101 Noodle Express, we got away with only one order for our group of four; miraculous considering we usually need full order one PER person. In all honesty, it’s also because these soup dumplings are good, but not THAT good. We ate enough between the unruly hand cut noodles in fragrant pork sparerib soup, a starchy stack of fried scallion pancakes that pretty much went untouched, side of bok choy, more steamed dumplings, yang chow fried rice (not a specialty here but something my boys always insist on) and…gosh, I can’t even remember what else it seemed we hardly put a dent in. Fortunately, few moments make me happier than finding exciting leftovers in the fridge. The case at the back of the restaurant by the register also stocks some frozen items to go, including dumplings and Chinese northern sausage.
Cons: We lucked out by arriving at this bare bones dining room just before the big Sunday night wave hit around 6:30. The Alhambra Bowling Center a few doors down the strip mall, with its requisite noisy and illuminated distractions, can help if you’re stuck in a jam. Florescent lighting from above blasts the clientele and is about as flattering as a high def camera catching an aging actor caught unawares without makeup after a rough bender, so don’t come with anyone you want to look particularly good for. The spartan bathroom basically doubles as a supply closet, and you’re best off avoiding any changing situations in there, unless you’re cool with close proximity to the heady aroma of industrial cleaning products.
Changing Station: No
High Chairs: No
Parking and Access: Easy, no brainer free strip mall parking. Gotta love this part of the SGV for being the region of the future that embraces the land use policies and parking habits of the past!
Other Tidbits: I think I’ve mentioned our household culinary taste split stemming from my husband’s lack of interest in Chinese food, with DTF being the exception. I always wonder if he’s serious or joking, just for the sake of it being A Thing. But since he’s actually BEEN to China and I haven’t, I’ll take it at face value. So when he was recently out of town, I easily recruited one of our besties who’s a regular on our family’s Sunday dinner circuit, who also happens to be a Jewish girl from Queens. Translation: she never says No to the prospect of an outstanding Chinese meal. She also thankfully had cash on her that night while I didn’t; I think about $40 took care of the spread, plus the bulging bags of food to take home.
It’s obviously a good sign about a place when you start craving the food the second you start to write about it. I’m now checking traffic on the 10 East, wondering if I can make it back in time for school pick-up. I’d be freed to up take a closer look at that stunning steel and glass one-story building at the southwest corner of New Ave. and Valley Blvd., and the crazy intriguing strip mall across the street from 101 Noddle, with its exuberant façades and metal scrollwork that evoke New Orleans or a Main Street USA town square. On the other hand, maybe I’m not to be left unleashed alone with a fistful of cash and a 101 Noodle Express menu.
1408 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; multiple locations
Hours: 11 a.m. – 1 a.m., daily.