When was the last time you had really good noodles?  Not noodles from a cup or noodles from that questionable Chinese takeout spot down the block. I'm talking about a bowl of pipping hot broth teeming with slick, slightly chewy noodles and no shortage of spicy flavor. Chances are if you haven't been to South of the Clouds, a Yunnan restaurant located in the epicenter of the iconic West 8th Street in Greenwich Village.

South of the Clouds specializes in Yunnan cuisine, a style of cooking hailing from Southwestern China punctuated with bold spicy yet sweet flavors and diverse ingredients ranging from wild mushrooms to goat cheese. The restaurant's centerpiece, mixian noodles, are everything a rice noodle should be: floppy, silky, and distinctly grainy.  

Last week, I tasted the entire South of the Clouds menu, basking in the deep flavors of Southern China. South of the Clouds transcends New York noodle culture, thanks to its unpretentious yet refined atmosphere and commitment to authentic and original flavors.

The Atmosphere:

Beatrice Forman

Touting the English translation of the word "Yunnan," South of Clouds transports customers to what feels like a world hovering over the chaos of New York City streets. A dramatic mural adorns the restaurant's entire left wall, making diners feel enclosed in the beauty of the Yunnan region's epic mountain ranges. Beehive-esque lights dangle over the tables lining each walls, giving each plate a literal halo. This makes a lot sense, seeing as you're about to have a heavenly meal. 

South of the Cloud's decor only further emphasizes the restaurant's mission: to showcase the best and brightest parts of Yunnan without forcing a cultural lecture. These subtle nods to tradition made me, a diner whose knowledge of Chinese cuisine was limited to the folds of a takeout menu, excited to try new dishes. 

The Menu:

Beatrice Forman

South of the Cloud's menu consists of the iconoclast Yunnan Crossing Bridge soup, an oversize bowl of mixian, chicken, beef, pork, and an endless array of custom toppings with a romantic backstory. However, the real stars of the menu are the six additional rice noodle specials. Each mixian dish, ranging from dry noodles topped with pork to the bowls of broth we love, elevates the noodles to something truly otherworldly.

Tomato Soup:

Beatrice Forman

Whenever we think of tomato soup, we don't think of the actual soup. We think of the grilled cheese that comes with it. However, South of the Cloud's tomato soup doesn't rely on a side dish. Topped with pork and soaked in a broth with lemons, tomatoes, and scallions, the mixian noodles are a conductor of complex flavors. The soup isn't too tomato-y; the lemons provide a nice tang while the pork brings a robust, and useful, smokiness.

Tofu Pudding:

Beatrice Forman

If the Crossing Bridge soup is the Lebron James of the menu — dependable, excellent, and larger than life — then perhaps the Tofu Pudding is Joel Embiid: a total, and surprisingly good, shock to the system. 

To the novice (aka myself), tofu pudding connotes an image of unappetizing vegan mush. In actuality, tofu pudding is a delightful combination of mixian, pork, beans, vegetables, and well, tofu. A drizzle of Sichuan peppercorn oil leaves your mouth tingling with umami, the illustrious sixth taste that only appears when you've tasted something truly savory.

Little Pot:

Beatrice Forman

Simmering in chicken broth for over 4 hours with pork, beans, pickled cabbage, and a host of other flavor enhancers, the Little Pot offers the most impactful iteration of mixian. Every spoonful takes on the pork's spice, the cabbage's tang, and the bean's subtle sweetness, allowing for yet another euphoric taste of umami. 

South of the Cloud's is, as Aryelle Siclait of Tasting Table says, "NYC's Most Interesting Noodle Spot" and for good reason. With flavors both bold and traditional, and the help of a noodle that does all the heavy lifting, South of the Clouds creates a dining experience that can't be replicated.