The first major difference between Mazilu in Lanzhou and Mazilu in Shanghai is that it doesn't open here until 10am or 10.30am, after the staff has eaten. In Lanzhou, beef noodles are a breakfast thing, with most stores opening at 6am and closing by the early afternoon. The second is that the cooks here in Shanghai's open kitchen are all wearing French chef's toques, not the Muslim head coverings. A minor detail, but a telling one, saying something about Shanghai's expectations of what a "chef" is, and perhaps much more than that. But I'm not going further.
There's lots of good things to Mazilu here in Shanghai. One is that you can pick the noodle width, from mao xi to da kuan, something I got excited about before when it was offered at Xibu Niuda in a Zhongshan Park mall. The second is the beef broth, redolent of the many spices it's cooked with — but often subbed out for subpar dishwater at the cut-rate la mian joints that fill up this city. Third is the taste of sliced beef shank in the soup, which is appropriately beefy and a little bit chewy. Fourth, the correct chili sauce, with copious amounts of red oil floating on top, so that it will "float" on top of the noodles instead of sinking (a sign of poor chili oil in Lanzhou).
Fifth. Well, fifth is just that it's good, filling, satisfying and clean bowl of la mian on a cold winter morning, right near a Metro stop, in the middle of downtown, with a legitimate and long history back in Lanzhou. Are there other, better la mian shops in Lanzhou than Mazilu? To my taste, yes, there are. But I'm stoked to see Mazilu expand into Shanghai, and hope their gamble will inspire more local brands across China to come try their hand in Shanghai. I'll be here, hungry and waiting.
Mazilu Beef Noodle, 277 Wujiang Lu, near Maoming Lu. Click here for more details.