Yang Gui Fei

We usually avoid restaurants in Chinatown—or at least those along the sightseeing stretch—like the plague. Most tend to serve touristy, sub-standard food at cutthroat prices.

Thanks to a good friend’s tip, we decided we had to give this one a chance, and it proved to be a most pleasant surprise; although we still haven’t the foggiest what Yang Guifei (one of the four ancient beauties of China) has to do with anything. Unfortunate choice of name aside, the rest of our experience here was exceptional.

At first glance, there’s little to promote it; just a few rows of wooden tables and stools, and clichéd Chinese wallpaper. Since it was a Xi An restaurant, and as our friendly server advised, we went with specialties like Xi An cold noodles ($4) and rou jia mo (a Chinese burger, if you will, $3.80). The flat, springy noodles had a spicy kick that jolted our taste buds to attention, which we chased with another signature, the chilled homemade sour plum drink ($3.80 per jug) that was just the ticket. The “burger” was just alright, with not enough stewed pork for our liking, but the addition of some chili helped it disappear. Our generous serving of jiaozi in hot and sour soup ($7) was outstanding. The broth was most tasty indeed, but it was the juicy pork-filled dumplings (homemade no doubt) that really got us going. We could have done without the royal grilled lamb ribs ($22), which were far too greasy. A good choice if you’re after protein is the chuan (barbequed meat skewers)—both the lamb ($1 per stick) and chicken ($0.80) were flavorsome and satisfying. We were so obscenely full, we didn’t even make it to dessert (and there’s usually always room for dessert).

Granted, it’s lacking ambiance, but you pay a mere pittance for very good Chinese fare in a no-frills set-up. Plus, service is cheerful and competent (a real rarity). We’re already planning our next visit.

Have you tried the jiaozi? It’s one of I-S Magazine’s 50 things to eat in Singapore before you die (2011).