It takes at least eight hours to make a bowl of luosifen. The soup’s many ingredients, as complex as a Mexican mole, include everything from dried tangerine peel and licorice root to the river snails that give it its name, which means “snail rice noodle.” But fussy eaters shouldn’t balk. There’s not a trace of snail meat in the sweet, subtly spicy broth at Yanzi Noodle House in Fairfax.
The effort necessary to make the soup all but requires that it’s crafted with love. And that is perhaps the most important ingredient in chef-owner Audrey Keenan’s version. The native of Liuzhou, the city in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region where luosifen originated, says that the soup is her daughter’s favorite food. When living in Catonsville, Maryland, she began sharing her labor-intensive excess with friends and acquaintances. Although she was working at an accounting firm at the time, “she basically started selling out of the back of her car for her friends,” recalls her husband, Jim Keenan, whom she married back home in 2009.
A stand inside New York Mart in Rockville, Maryland, followed in 2019. A Washington Post story brought attention to her business in 2021, but Keenan decided to move it late last year. “I have more customers in Virginia,” she explains. And there are no other restaurants in NoVA representing Liuzhou.
Naturally, Yanzi Noodle House, decorated in hip orange and white, is the only place in the region to get luosifen that doesn’t come from a package. The rice noodles are covered in an array of toppings, including lots of roasted peanuts, bok choy, and chewy fried tofu skin.
Keenan crafts each bowl herself, whether it’s centered around pickled vegetables or ground pork. She also brings the bowl to the table personally, wearing a beret and braids that suit the cute décor. Every detail of the restaurant is a taste of Keenan’s affection for her native land and her hungry customers.
10955 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax