Zhi Wei Cafe Debuts Downtown with Lanzhou Noodles from Northwest China

Now open in Boston’s Leather District, the restaurant highlights Lanzhou beef noodle soup, tender lamb chops, and plump soup dumplings.

A hand uses chopsticks to pull noodles and a sliver of beef out of a steaming bowl of noodle soup, red with chili oil.

Lanzhou beef noodle soup at Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

In the pandemic’s early days, Jin Tan, founder of the new Boston restaurant Zhi Wei Cafe, spent two years traveling China, tasting all different kinds of foods. “I was thinking, ‘What should I bring back to Boston?’” he says now. “I brought back the Lanzhou noodle.”

Interior of a restaurant with a glossy wooden floor and banquette. A small raised section in the front looks out onto the sunny street.

Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Overhead view of two skewers of grilled lamb chunks in a spicy red powder on a rectangular plate.

Barbecue lamb skewers at Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

These chewy, silky noodles hail from northwest China, virtually the opposite side of the country from Tan’s Guangdong region hometown in the south, where he started working at his parents’ restaurant at the age of seven. But the noodles are known throughout the country, having spread far and wide: “Lanzhou noodles in China are like McDonald’s in the United States,” says Tan. In Boston, though? They’re a rarity.

A hand dips a stick of fried dough into a bowl of a creamy white liquid.

Fried dough sticks with house-made soy milk at Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

While we’re lucky to have quite a few local spots where you can enjoy another popular northwestern Chinese noodle, Xi’an-style biang biang noodles, those tend to be thick and wide, often seasoned liberally with chili and garlic. You’ll have a tougher time finding Lanzhou noodles in the Boston area. They’re usually thinner—although several widths are acceptable in this style—and more delicate, often served in a clear broth embellished with thinly sliced beef, daikon, cilantro, and chili oil. This so-called Lanzhou beef noodle soup is a signature dish of the region.

Art on the wall at a Chinese restaurant, featuring a man putting long noodles into a bowl from a large pot.

Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

A wooden steamer basket is open to reveal four soup dumplings.

Soup dumplings at Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Zhi Wei Cafe—nestled in downtown Boston’s petite, South Station-adjacent Leather District—is the culmination of Tan’s hard work and desire to open a family business like his parents did. After spending his childhood in their restaurant, he came to the United States to attend UMass Amherst, working in restaurants during his college years and beyond. Now, he has Zhi Wei Cafe. “It’s really bringing it back to a family-owned restaurant,” says Lisa (Mei) Tan, Jin’s sister, who manages the restaurant. “That’s what he’s creating with Zhi Wei Cafe.”

A hand holds up a black plate with two halves of a scallion pancake rollup stacked atop each other, stuffed with beef, cucumber, and carrot.

Beef pancakes at Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The restaurant, a cozy destination with sleek wooden accents and a sunny mezzanine with street views, makes its noodles in-house daily. “The traditional noodle-making process involves skillful hand-pulling,” says Jin Tan, “where our expert chefs stretch and fold the dough repeatedly to create the ideal texture.” They’re bathed in a steaming bowl of a fragrant chicken- and beef-based broth that’s cooked for eight to ten hours, with a generous serving of chili oil adding a slow-building heat.

Overhead view of a noodle and shrimp dish surrounded by scallion pancake rollups, fried dough, a noodle soup, and more.

Stir-fried noodles with shrimp at Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Four lamb chops sit on a blue floral rectangular plate with a small black bowl of a fiery red chili powder.

Hand-pulled lamb chops at Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The menu is also stacked with other delights, including a few lamb dishes; lamb is commonly found in the Muslim-influenced cuisines of northwestern China. At Zhi Wei Cafe, don’t miss the hand-pulled lamb chops, slow-cooked and so tender that you can easily pull the meat off the bone—hence the name. “In Boston, we haven’t tried or seen anything like our lamb chops,” says Lisa Tan. The barbecue lamb skewers, sprinkled with fiery red seasoning, are also notable, or try the beef or chicken wing version of the dish. Other must-tries include beef wrapped up in scallion pancakes with carrots and cucumber; exceptional soup dumplings, made from scratch in-house; crispy fried dough sticks meant to be dipped into warm house-made soy milk; and osmanthus iced jelly for dessert.

Overhead view of a bowl of a Chinese dessert, a clear jelly with ice cubes, sesame seeds, and dried floral bits.

Osmanthus iced jelly at Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Zhi Wei Cafe’s name comes from the phrase “most delicious,” and the team is certainly off to a strong start since opening earlier this summer. But stay tuned, because there’s more to come—like ice-boiled lamb hot pot, a take on hot pot that is less spicy than most, slated for an early September introduction. For now, head to South Street for hearty bowls of noodles made with care.

A decorative hot pot at a Chinese restaurant is covered with colorful flowers. A banner in the background says Zhi Wei.

A vessel for hot pot at Zhi Wei Cafe. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

104 South St., Leather District, Downtown Boston,

Visit our Ultimate Guide to Boston Restaurant Openings, Summer 2023, to learn more about other exciting new openings this season.