Watching chef Biao Yang through the glass window of the International District’s Uway Malatang is mesmerizing. With each pull of the pliable dough in his hands, he doubles the number of noodles stretched in front of him. A math problem popping up next to him like an old episode of Square One wouldn’t be out of place. With each stretch, the noodles get thinner, and thinner, until he has enough, breaks off the end, and tosses the noodles into boiling water. Fresh noodles have a bounce and a chew that can’t be found in dried ones, while the hand-pulled ones have a wonderful extra suppleness.
Diners can choose the hand-pulled noodles for their dan dan mien (sesame-pork noodles) or in a noodle soup (the lamb version is exceptional). The menu is full of culinary treasures, and even with a whole page devoted to the hand-pulled noodles imploring you to “choose me!” it’s not obvious what a signature dish, what a treasure they are.
Miles north, the onomatopoeic Biang! in Edmonds also offers hand-pulled noodles, though it’s not their strength and they are not worth ordering. Instead, a different version of hand-made noodle shines here. The namesake biang biang mian, made by thumping the dough repeatedly onto the counter—you can hear it from the dining room—end up, after taking their beating, long and flat, with a rippled edge. The beauty in chaos of the uneven shape makes it the perfect vehicle for the spice of the hot oil version of the noodle that’s the star of the menu.
Both restaurants draw from Xi’an cuisine, but excel in different areas. The dumplings are ordinary at Biang!, but the pork sandwich is also quite good, while Uway’s “Xi’an burger” is not worth the stomach space it might occupy. Instead, save the space for a taste-bud rousing bowl of Szechuan wontons. Or, if you’re like me, a second bowl of incredible hand-made noodles.