If you are what you eat, then I’m noodles (either that, or dark chocolate). My dad hails from a small village in southern China and I’ve happily inherited his hometown’s noodle-appreciating culture. But even if my obsession weren’t genetic, noodles would still be my favorite on the food pyramid.
The texture, flavor-absorption power, comfort, and sheer convenience of noodle dishes across cultures, but especially classic Chinese bowls of happiness, are unparalleled. Here are four no-frills, no-fail places to get your fix in Chinatown.
It’s nothing short of a miracle that some of the most explosively scrumptious noodles that will ever meet your mouth are from a dark hole-in-the-wall constantly enveloped in an almost mystical steam.
In a neighborhood of translations as literal as they come, there’s no question that Tasty’s noodles are illegally tasty: noodles slightly springy but not soggy, perfectly tactile and lathered in nuanced, gamey broth; slightly funky but wholly satisfying fish balls with a snappy, porky surprise greeting you in their center. The menu is substantial and almost every bowl, plate, or pairing of noodle awaits your imagination.
The first time I visited Xi’an Famous Foods (西安名吃) was with my dad, the noodle connoisseur himself. The first time I tried the borderline mythological liáng pí (凉皮), Mandarin for cold-skin noodles, my life was forever ruined because I now want it for every meal. The ingredients are few, the preparation simple, the flavor completely detonating.
All the world’s most beautiful things seem contained in the oil bathing those glassy, silky, tangy noodles and owner Jason Wang has probably scientifically somewhere that this dish will change your life, and most likely your progeny’s, too. You can adjust your spice preference on every dish, but be prepared for a real bout of tongue-numbing of the best kind here.
Drunk? Hungover? Have the munchies? Have mono? Have nothing to do whatsoever? Regardless of the occasion, Great N.Y. Noodletown is the restaurant version of Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement: it is everything you could ever need, whenever you need it, without fail.
And the one dish that proves this more than any other at Great N.Y. is their wonton noodle soup. Under “comfort” in the dictionary, one finds a picture of the wontons in this bowl of ridiculous flavor: juicy, tender, fragrant, that distinct dim sum shrimp funkiness, all wrapped in an impossibly delicate yet firm wonton skin, the perfect sponge for the extraterrestrial broth these wontons swim in. They’re a perfect complement to the noodles, which are almost angel-hair-like; deliciously slurpy and lip-smackingly hearty.
Have you ever eaten something and come to two haunting realizations at once? One: you were never truly whole until you’d tried this dish. Two: you will never be truly whole again until you eat it every day for the rest of your life. Both those epiphanies engulfed my — and everyone else’s — soul upon the earth-shattering first bite of these deceivingly simplistic peanut-sesame noodles.
One taste of that incredibly rich yet not overly greasy, roaringly flavorful peanut sauce, paired with yellow noodles that are almost pho-like in texture, and your taste buds will sing a heartsong you didn’t even know existed.
And for less than a one-way subway ride’s worth of money, this plate of pure ecstasy (accompanied with bone broth to wash it all down) probably has the power to bring world peace. Most likely.