Terra Incognita

What is Shaanxi-style food?

If three is a trend, than Shaanxi  (shahn-shee) food is the hottest cuisine you may never have heard of.

In the past six months, we've seen the appearance of Xi An Gourmet and House of Xi'An Dumpling. (Xi'An is the largest city in China's Shaanxi Province.)

Now comes Terra Cotta Warrior in the Outer Sunset. It's both the most beautiful of the three–branches arcing out from burgundy-colored walls, long wood tables with black cushioned benches–as well as the tastiest.

That, says David Deng, the manager, is because it's straight-up legit. "I was born in Shaanxi. My chef was born in Shaanxi. Everything on the menu is cooked Shaanxi style," he says.

With its brawny flavors and its spicy and sour notes, the cuisine falls between that of Beijing and Sichuan. That regional flavor expresses itself in dish after dish.

Lamb soup with pita | Qishan minced pork noodles

At the heart of the menu: handmade noodles. They can be as ethereal as mian-pi ($4), steamed wheat-starch linguine tossed with cucumber, black vinegar and chile oil, or as chewy and elastic as the hand-pulled Qishan noodles ($8) served in a tart, ruddy pork broth.

More well-known dishes are cooked equally well: The bitterness of ong choy stir-fried with garlic ($9) is tempered by the wok's high heat, and the spicing of velvety cumin lamb ($9) with onions and slivered green chiles is surprisingly subtle.

That's the Shaanxi style.