Darda (清真一條龍) is one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in the SF bay area. Its popularity stems from several factors. First, it is one of the few Islamic-Chinese style restaurants, where no pork is served and the main specialties are lamb and beef dishes, along with Northern Chinese flour-based (麵食) items. Second, despite its full name “Darda Seafood”, it does its noodles and pancakes extremely well. Third, it is not very expensive and gives big portions, especially for the noodle items.
One of its most popular dishes is the Stir-fried knife-shaved noodle (炒刀削麵). In any of the beef, chicken, shrimp, lamb, or combination varieties, it is one of the best renditions of this classic Northern Chinese noodle dish anywhere.
The shrimp chao mian is filled with lots of plump shrimp, egg flowers and nice long cuts of knife-shaved noodle. The noodle style got its name because traditionally it is made by shaving each piece/slice of noodle directly from the already mixed noodle dough “ball” directly into boiling water for cooking.
Darda’s version is always cooked to perfect consistency in terms of sauce flavor, the infusion of flavor into the thick noodles, as well as the perfect Q-ness of the noodle itself. The simple ingredients of egg and some veggie rounds out the dish. (Grade: A+)
As far as the soupy noodle, another favorite at Darda is the classic Niu Rou Mian, or beef noodle. In Taiwan, there are places which excelled at knife-shaved niu rou mian, such as the original Ban Mu Yuan (半畝園) in Taipei, better known as the A&J’s parent restaurant. However, to excel at the knife-shaved soup noodle, the soup itself must be rich enough to flavor the noodle, which unfortunately is not the case at Darda.
The weakness of Darda’s niu rou mian offering is its soup. The flavor is too simple and watery, thus lacking both richness and complexity. The meat, however, also does not match the best versions found at ASJ in San Jose or A&J in Cupertino. They do not use the beef shank, but rather a cheaper cut of beef round or brisket so the meat can easily become too tough and chewy.
What they lack they make up with lots of beef and a huge amount of noodles. The noodle to get here for niu rou mian is the “thin” noodle as opposed to the knife-shaved “thick” noodle. Even though it is “thin”, it is still hand-made in house and thicker than normal Cantonese style noodles. The thin version soaks up the thin broth relatively well and much better than the knife-shaved noodle.
Overall, the good, huge noodle and average beef/soup combination makes it an edible alternative to chao mian. It ranks lower than the top echelon of niu rou mian in bay area, but holds its own in the mid-tier. (Grade: B)
Milpitas, CA 95035