When I first moved to New York, I quickly latched onto the dumpling house as a life constant – cheap, fried and pork filled are three virtues I have a hard time refusing when jobless and an easy time accepting when occupied.
Now that I’ve been around the block a few times, I find myself much more attracted to the noodles houses that are just as common in Chinatown. It helps that most dumpling houses sell their goods in frozen sacks of 50; the first time I brought home 100 frozen dumplings from Prosperity, I went back out almost immediately to begin trying the hand pulled noodles I’d been neglecting in the Fuzhou neighborhood. Averaging a cost of $4.50 per heaping bowlful, Chinese la mian stands at the peak of hole in the wall dining, its cooks pounding and stretching lumps of dough in perfect obliviousness to the glamor of the ramen gods uptown.
While every hand pulled noodle shop whose name rings out in the New York food scene is bound to serve up a satisfying meal, Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle, Inc. has to be the most underwhelming of the lot. Perhaps it’s because they’ve been swamped with business after being plastered across town in Time Out and New York Mag; perhaps I need to head back to try the pork bone soup that wasn’t in stock when I showed up. As it stands, my dumpling hand pulled noodle soup wasn’t enough on its own to merit a return visit. The noodles and dumplings were serviceable, but the broth of the soup was noticeably weak in flavor. My bowl needed a liberal spike of Sriracha to be fully enjoyed, which speaks volumes of Sriracha but only a few hushed murmurs of Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle.
Tucked away on East Broadway, Lam Zhou (Fuzou?) Handmade Noodle ranks similarly on the noodle and broth scales: tasty, but nothing to write home about. Lam Zhou, however, does hold a few key advantages over Tasty Hand Pulled Noodle and any other noodle shop in Chinatown. First is the fact that the la mian at Lam Zhou is prepared on a metal table right out in the open, between the kitchen and the dining room (which, of course, is also the entrance). Wherever you take a seat, your slurps are punctuated by the loud THWOK. THWOK. THWOK. of a Fuzhou cook pounding lumps of dough against floured steel, then disrupted altogether as your eyes are drawn away from the bowl and towards the sight of noodles-to-be swinging dangerously close to a dirty tiled floor.
What this place doesn’t score in surly points it makes up for in overwhelming pork win: Lam Zhou’s fried pork chop hand pulled noodle soup is worth a visit on its own. The chop, served alongside rather than inside the soup, is deeply marinaded in soy sauce, then breaded, salted, peppered and fried for a juicy, savory-sweet crunch served criminally cheap ($4.50 for the bowl of noodles and two pork chops). The Girl Who Ate Everything tells me that Lam Zhou also makes a killer plate of fried dumplings, which pretty much seals the deal for my next walk down to East Broadway.
Super Taste, which I first sought out for its phenomenal steamed dumplings, is a local favorite that seems to be a logical starting point for greater noodle discovery. The noodles here are a spot on comfort, consistently evoking remarks about identical bowls on the other side of the Pacific and memories of slurping down noodles in another language.
After making the rounds, I’ve found that it’s also an ending point. As the only hand pulled noodle shop that saves a menu slot for spicy beef broth, Super Taste is an irreplaceable destination. I’ve tried a few other soups here, but nothing compares to its spicy beef noodle soup; its rich, oily, chili infused musk surpasses the less-than-stellar quality of its beef and noodles to earn my loyalty without pause. This soup is equally good with knife peeled noodles (left), a rougher, starchier alternative that makes slurping just a mite more adventurous.
Literally across the street from Super Taste, dive champion Sheng Wang serves the best hand pulled noodles I’ve tasted by a wide margin. It wasn’t until I descended into this semi-dank pit of deliciousness that I really understood the spirit of la mian – the noodles here are springier than a greased slinky and seem to drape and coil for miles and miles after you’ve first lifted them from the bowl. I’ve since thrown out my stash of Twizzlers, as one pinch of Sheng Wang’s noodles is enough sheer joy and elasticity to keep me satisfied and entertained for minutes at a time.
Everything else at Sheng Wang seems par for the course. The fish balls, essentially hearty, tender, Atkins dumplings filled with juicy chunks of pork, are a personal favorite of mine, though I still have much to try. The noodles alone will give me reason to continue exploring as I unravel the rest of Sheng Wang’s menu.
Parked beneath the Manhattan Bridge, Mr. Gao’s Eastern Noodle has built a reputation for itself with its friendly mom-and-pop service and – what else? – delicious hand pulled noodles. This is my favorite noodle shop of all, balancing delicious broth, well cooked meats and excellent noodles without falling off the edge in any particular aspect.
Eastern’s noodles aren’t as preternaturally elastic as those at Sheng Wang, but they’re noticeably more lively than the rest of the bunch. Eastern Noodle’s beef is perfectly stewed, its pork chop nicely grilled before being plopped into the soup, which accepts no compromise when it comes to rich, meaty flavor. The entire package is elevated further by Mr. Gao’s homemade chili sauce, which has a deep, smoky flavor with toasted notes floating through rings of fire. It’s hardly needed, given how tasty the broth already is, but when used conservatively it one-ups Sriracha as a bomb of flavor.
Bonding with a staple food is a magnificent experience. At first I’m shocked by the fact that these noodles have just now made it into my life, then I’m overwhelmed by the number of noodle houses and individual dishes I’d have to master to be worthy of their supple curves, and finally I am awed by the possibility of making all of these noodles a regular part of my life alongside fried dumplings, golabki, banh mi, omurice, bagels with cream cheese and tomato, new york slices and every other fresh, indispensable bite that courses through the lifeblood of the city. As long as I don’t have to spend more than five bucks to get the job done, I remain hungrily optimistic. Sadly, my stomach does not.
|Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle
144 E. Broadway
New York, NY 10002
|Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle Inc.
1 Doyer Street
New York, NY 10013
|Eastern Authentic Noodle House
28 Forsyth St
New York, NY 10002
26 Eldridge St
New York, NY 10002
27 Eldridge St
New York, NY 10002