UPDATE: This restaurant unexpectedly closed on May 31, 2016, posting a sign that it will reopen in August 2016 under new management.
The story: Restaurant owner David Deng opened earlier this year a spot in the Outer Sunset to truly serve the food of his birthplace, the central province of Shaanxi in China, known world-wide as the home of Xian and the famous terra cotta warriors found in the tombs of an emperor. Deng’s Terra Cotta Warrior goes for authenticity by hiring a chef, also from Shaanxi.
Why I went: Growing up eating Cantonese food, I wanted to see what Shaanxi cuisine is all about. With the emphasis on mutton and hand-pulled noodles, I knew it would be a great spot during a cold winter. I went last Saturday with my friends Vera, Ray and Wella, and we huddled around each other to stay warm as we waited in the tiny front foyer, crowded with other people waiting for a table.
The vibe: The bustling spot has a rich environment with the burgundy decor and dark tables, most set up family style, which was fitting because there were a lot of groups of diners, either families enjoying dumplings or friends sharing several of the meat dishes.
The menu: Split between hot and cold dishes and a special column for restaurant specials, which is where you’ll find many of the Shaanxi specialties. The cold menu is primarily appetizers, which can help cool your palate before you start the hot dishes, many with the spicy warning. We tried some specialties, such as the Shaanxi mian-pi with sesame sauce ($4.25), simply hand-made flat noodles with shredded cucumbers coated in sesame oil. We also ordered a dumpling dish and soup noodles, along with the stir-fry lamb in cumin ($8.95) and sauteed water spinach ($8.95). The dishes weren’t as spicy as I imagined (at least to me, maybe not to Wella), and the meat seemed to be lacking (I could barely taste them in the dumplings). But the flavors definitely did provide something different and unusual.
My favorite dish: Even though I could barely taste the pork, I did enjoy the hot and sour pork dumplings ($6.25), which is just comforting and insightful. The broth has a spicy and tart flavor with just a tinge of fresh herbs.
The last bite: Feeding the curious and the homesick, Terra Cotta Warrior makes a nice effort to introduce Shaanxi cuisine to the Bay Area. It’s a small space that gets busy easily, but the efficient service and quick kitchen keeps tables turning. The food can be on the oily side (including the soups), but it does offer some unique flavors that’ll make you forget about ordering kung pao chicken.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Terra Cotta Warrior, 2555 Judah St. (at 31st Avenue), San Francisco. PH: 415.681.3288. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Closed Mondays). No reservations. Major credit cards accepted.
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