After a single meal at Mrs Khan, you could easily feel like a noodle expert.
Each visit to the surprising, enticingly spicy Uyghur restaurant — which is unexpectedly located in Menlo Park — is like a crash course on the cuisine’s diverse noodles and varying characteristics.
You can try long flat varieties in the laghman or slippery gluten-free versions in the spicy rice noodles. In the gigantic chicken korma ($34/$45) — often referred to as “big plate chicken” — the springy noodles had the dense girth of biang biang noodles, hand-stretched Chinese noodles named after the “bang” sound of the dough hitting a table. Tucked underneath brown chicken morsels, potatoes and peppers, those long noodles soaked up the blood-red sauce. It’s the kind of hearty food you’d eat to battle a harsh winter.
There are two Mrs. Khans to thank for this intoxicating food: sisters Almira and Kalbi, who split the kitchen duties. Almira handles everything outside of the naan and noodles, which is Kalbi’s domain. She stretches and pulls dough by hand, boiling then shocking noodles in cold water for optimal chew.
Neither is actually named Khan: The sisters made up the surname as a nod to the Khan title given to rulers in Central Asia; Almira meant to name the restaurant “Ms. Khan” but accidently wrote “Mrs Khan.” The sisters fear that their family in Xinjiang might be put in danger if word got out that they opened a restaurant in the U.S., so The Chronicle agreed not to publish their last names in accordance with its anonymous sources policy. Almira and Kalbi are Uyghurs, an ethnic Turkic group that predominantly identify as Muslim, from Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwest China. The United States government has called the persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang by the Chinese state a genocide.
Five years ago, there were a handful of Uyghur restaurants around the Bay Area. Sadly, most of them did not survive the pandemic. The team behind Eden Silk Road and Sama Uyghur Cuisine, which operated in Fremont, Oakland and Union City, closed all of their locations by 2021. Kusan Uyghur Cuisine in San Jose appears to be the only other restaurant remaining that’s devoted to the cuisine, although certain Central Asian restaurants, like Nursel in San Carlos, offer Uyghur dishes, too.
Kalbi left Xinjiang for the U.S. in 2010 to go to college, and Almira joined her five years later. They started a limo service in Sacramento in 2016. But what the sisters really wanted was to open a restaurant. In Sacramento, they couldn’t find their people’s food and missed it dearly.
On a visit to the Bay Area last year, they noticed a closed Japanese barbecue restaurant in sleepy, suburban Menlo Park. Almira peeked through the building's windows envisioning the Uyghur restaurant she and her sister had been dreaming of for years. Without giving it much thought, the sisters applied for the lease. The landlord warned them it might be difficult to find an audience in Menlo Park because the city had never seen anything like Uyghur food before. Ultimately, he gave them a shot.