Article By Stephen Robinson
L118 Wan Xiang Tian Di, No, 1111, Yan Zhan Rd, Qujiang New District.
(029) 8955 5757
10:00am – 1:00am
Average Price per Person /人均消费: 128RMB
Xi’an is a city that is well known for its food, and for good reason. The local food in Xi’an is really good, and so finding a restaurant that serves up delicious food is not that hard. The same can be said for many of the restaurants serving up various cuisines from around China. The food is good and people enjoy it. But for some reason, the same cannot be said for many restaurants serving Western-style food. There always seems to be something lacking, a taste or flavor that doesn’t seem quite right. So when you find a place that does bring the flavor, it’s worth talking about. One such place is Zao.
Zao is an interesting place, from the design to the menu, and is sure to grab your attention as you walk by. Located in the 万象天地 shopping plaza near the TV Tower, this first-floor restaurant has ample outdoor seating that takes advantage of the mall’s open design plan. The inside is likewise very spacious, with different tables for groups of all sizes. There is also a small stage at the center of the restaurant for live performances, as the restaurant converts to a bar after 10PM. But don’t worry, no one is going to be playing guitar through your dinner, as these performances typically don’t happen during meal times.
In addition to being a restaurant, Zao is also a brewery as well, serving up craft brew on draft, with a selection of 30 beers that are on a rotation, with 10 types available at any given time, adjusting based on the month and season. At the time of this review, they had a strawberry beer on tap, as well as a white beer and several IPAs. If you’re unsure about what you want to drink, you can order up a sampler flight that allows you to try the different beverages they have on offer. Unlike many breweries in the city, they also offer a few different kinds of wine and bottled beers, so you can find what you like to drink, regardless of your preference.
Now to the food. One of the first things that you notice about the food at Zao is that it is very meat-centric. If fact, you’d be a bit hard pressed to find any vegetable-based dish on the menu apart from a single salad. Most of the selection is based around grilled meats and seafood, with a panoply of different kinds of meat. Beef, lamb, and chicken are well represented, as well as fish, shellfish, and other types of seafood.
Appetizers include things like chicken wings, beef shish kebab, and similar items. The meat was all very tender, but without the mushy too-much-meat-tenderizer quality that you often find at Western restaurants here. The meat was just well-seasoned and well cooked, and they even managed to cook the peppers and onions on the skewer with the meat perfectly, an achievement not easy to do.
They also serve up pastas, including one of the heartiest plates of spaghetti Bolognese. They actually sauced the noodles properly, and allowed the pasta to absorb the sauce, leading to a very satisfying bite, with a poached egg on top. They also brought out a interesting twist on beef noodles, using Italian pasta instead of pulled noodles, and swapping out some of the more traditional ingredients for unique ones, while still maintaining the feel of beef noodles. As will all the dishes that we tried, the beef in this noodle was tender and delicious.
The restaurant also serves up a variety of pizzas, with a very visible pizza oven so that you can see them take your pizza out of the oven and bring it over to your table. The pizza that we tried that day was a unique offering as well, a tuna pizza that had two crusts, with the crispy sides pointed outwards making a kind of pizza sandwich that was not quite a calzone. Normally, I’m not a fan of tuna on pizza, but with a creamy sauce and a bit of sweet mayo topping it, this somehow worked. There was plenty of crispy crust to add texture, making this a great, if unusual experience.
It was around this time that the next dish arrived, a tuna steak that had been lightly rolled in sesame seeds and then grilled slightly, so that just the outer bit was cooked through, while the center remained pink and rare. This was served with a coconut milk and carrot puree that added a nice sweetness to the dish.
Next up were two variety platters, one of German sausages and the other of grilled meats. The sausages were good, nice sized sausages served with pickled cucumbers and pickled radishes, but the real star was the meat platter, with chicken, beef, and lamb chops. The chicken (thigh meat) was juicy, and tender, but still managed to have a crispy skin on the outside. The beef was also extra tender, with a melt in your mouth quality that spoke of long, slow cooking. The lamb chop though. They might have been the best lamb chops that I’ve tried in Xi’an. The lamb was super tender, and the fat had been rendered properly, meaning that even the fatty parts of the meat were not overpowered or tough in the slightest. The meat was almost delicate, with the lamb taste a very light addition to the flavor. One of the best part was that these were not overly spiced, but instead cooked in such a way that the meat flavor really shined.
It’s easy to tell, from the beer to the food, that Zao opts for higher quality ingredients than many of their competitors, as they don’t try to hide their food behind excess flavors or thick fried exteriors. It’s worth noting that despite this quality, the prices are not astronomical, but sit at a very reasonable average. Some menu items are obviously more expensive, with some of the steaks coming in at several hundred each, but it’s also possible to come out having spent significantly less than you might have elsewhere for the same quality. Zao also runs a bunch deal on the weekends, with very reasonable priced breakfast offerings (typically around 38RMB for one plate).
So if you’re looking for a new place to try, want to get some good meaty dishes, or if you just want to grab an ice cold pint while sitting outside, then Zao is a place that you might want to check out.
Stephen Robinson is the editor-in-chief at xianease and would love to get your thoughts on everything we are doing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org