This is the fifth post in the Eating the Big Apple series. Other posts include Soba Koh, Sylvia's Restaurant (Gospel Brunch), Torrisi Italian Specialties, and Ippudo.
I started eating hand-pulled noodles at a very young age.
At that time, I didn't even appreciate how awesome it was. We were fortunate, I guess. In the middle of Toledo Ohio, there was this Chinese couple (who grew up in Korea, interestingly), that opened a simple Chinese restaurant called Peking City.
Sure, the restaurant had its fair share of Americanized Chinese food (hello Orange Chicken!) and (oddly enough) Korean staples like Jja Jang Myeon. But the most beautiful thing? The husband knew how to make hand pulled noodles.
I didn't really appreciate the rarity of this treat until I moved to Boston. All of a sudden, I was living in a city where (at most) you might have one hand pulled noodle shop (if you're lucky) exist for a few years before shuttering (ah, Noodle Alcove, I miss you).
In desperation, I tried learning to make my own. I even took a noodle pulling class in Beijing to learn from the masters themselves (yes, check out the video of the class that I made!). When traveling to other cities, we continued to eat noodles - in Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, the Bay Area - even a place that Anthony Bourdain visited.
Thankfully, I need not travel that far for noodles. New York City is pretty close to Boston, and there are tons of hand-pulled noodle shops there. This past year, I visited my first hand pulled noodle shop in Chinatown.
Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles is your typical hole-in-the-wall in Chinatown. Tucked away in a small side street, the friendly, colorful sign beckons you into a reasonably cramped eating space with simple wooden tables and pictures of dishes on the walls.
One of my favorite things about this restaurant is that you can "custom-order" your noodles. You choose between "normal", "wide," or "fat" hand pulled noodles. You can also get knife-cut noodles (not hand pulled, but shaved off of a huge block into boiling water!). You can even order rice noodles (but why would you ever do that? They're not homemade!).
Of course we got a variety, opting for "normal", "wide", "fat", and "knife cut."
They asked us if we wanted to also get some veggies, like the house made pickles. I kind of regret bowing to the pressure at the time. These were frankly kind of average - I actually much prefer my own version.
The noodle soups, on the other hand, were great. The broths are pretty simple - bone-based, clear, and reasonably light. Those that are used to intense, flavorful broths may find this a bit "bland", but I thought it was fine and I didn't mind the "lighter" style soup. I think most of the offerings use the same basic broth, just with different combinations of ingredients.
How do you know if you have *real* hand pulled noodles? You'll have A LOT of trouble cutting your noodles in half. After all - hand pulled noodles derive from one loooooong noodle that gets pulled and doubled, over and over again.
We tried various methods of trying to cut the noodles, including this interesting "cut from the edge of the bowl using chopsticks" method. I guess it wouldn't be so much of a problem if you have your own bowl and you can just keep on slurping that one long noodle. However, we were with friends, and the four of us wanted to try all four noodle dishes that we ordered, thus the complexities.
I loved the super wide noodles, which had a great, chewy "QQ" bite to it.
That particular wide noodle was paired with a wonton noodle soup, which was pretty good.
The pan fried dumplings, although serviceable, were a disappointment overall. I've had much better dumplings, both in Los Angeles and in China. These were a bit greasy, not super crispy, and overall just a bit too heavy. I would stick with the noodles and skip the fried dumplings.
One of the best ways to enjoy the texture of handmade noodles is to have them in a pan-fried dish. At the end of the day, if you're not a super fast eater, you risk the soup softening the fresh noodles over time. This problem doesn't occur in a pan-fried noodle dish, which is why I often like to order pan-fried fresh noodles instead of soup noodles. [I'm also a particularly huge fan of knive-cut noodles in general, so perhaps I'm biased?]
These knife-cut noodles had awesome texture. In some ways, it almost didn't matter what specific other things came along with the noodles. I was just happy chewing away at the wide ribbons.
Alas, we ordered way too much food, but it was super fun to try so many dishes. Overall, Tasty makes great noodles. Skip the cucumbers and pan fried dumplings. Focus on the various permutations of what they make best - noodles!
Some may argue that their broth is a little less complex than other broths (Bryan still prefers the flavors of the noodle soups at his favorite LA haunt, for example). There's also less variety, as it seems like most of the noodle soups are based on this one broth.
Nevertheless, if you're just in the mood for a simple, well-executed, cheap and satisfying bowl of chewy, hand-pulled noodles (most dishes are $5-$7), Tasty does a fine job of it.
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