Xi’an Famous Foods, with its Silk Road inflected fare featuring plenty of cumin-laced lamb and flatbreads, has been such a success story that it was only a matter of time before copycats started emerging. Nobody has been bold enough to bootleg the entire concept. A couple of places have tried their hand at rou jia mou, the Chinese flatbread sandwiches that David “Liang Pi” Shi used to tell me were “Chinese hamburgers” back when Xi’an Famous Foods’ operation was limited to a humble stall in the 36th Chamber of the Golden Shopping Mall. The worst copycat Chinese burger I’ve had tasted more or less like a lamb sloppy joe. And the best comes from a newish place in Elmhurst named Chinger.The shop’s name, an unfortunate portmanteau of Chinese and a mispelling of burger, sounds vaguely like a racist epithet or a Mexican cuss word.
The day I was there they were out of cumin lamb chingers. I’m pretty sure the one I had was pork even though the receipt reads beef. (Incidentally, it also has burger spelled correctly.) For $2.50 the chinger was quite tasty. When I talked to the Taiwanese gal at the counter I also got a little insight into the wacky name. She told me the Chinese name was qin ge jia mou, the first two words of which sound vaguely like chinger.
I also tried what the menu calls rice salad ($3.50). They can call it what they want, but there’s no fooling this Golden Shopping Mall denizen, it’s clearly their take on liang pi, aka cold skin noodles. Truth be told the mix of spongy blocks of gluten and slippery noodles was pretty good, but the spicing was nowhere near as complex as at Xi’an Famous Foods.
I’m a little conflicted about the whole restaurant bootlegging. On the one hand I’m glad there’s something new and tasty in Elmhurst and on the other hand I wish restaurant owners would come up with original concepts instead of riding the coattails of others. And on the third hand imitatation is the sincerest form of flattery. One thing’s for sure there’s only one place—well six if you count Biang!—to get a lamb face salad sandwich, and that’s Xi’an Famous Foods.
Chinger, 83-02 Broadway, Elmhurst