Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chen's Noodle House

Spicewood and 183 is a looooooooooong way from my abode in South Austin. But Chen's Noodle House makes it worth it. It is located in the rather non-descript strip center at the southwest corner of the intersection. Other notable businesses there include Sambet's Cajun, Asia Market/Cafe, a dance studio, a martial arts studio, and a resale shop called Lovey's run by a very sweet gal that we discovered after our lunch.

Several years ago, the space that Chen's now occupies used to be a hot dog place. Hopefully this will be a place that lasts (though we were the only ones in there for lunch, though it is Saturday of labor day weekend, though one person (who appeared Chinese) did come in to pick up his carryout food, though....), because it really is good. It's a very small place, though clean, and the workers polite. A wall-mounted TV was playing a Chinese station.

The menu has expanded since my previous visit early this year, and while I was extremely tempted by the lamb skewers, what I came for was the hand-cut noodles. I ordered the combo bowl, my friend the beef noodle bowl, and we got a green onion pancake to share. The pancake came out first...piping hot is a bit of an understatement! It's cut into quarters, and if it were pieced back together, it would probably be about 10 inches in diameter. The table with napkins & silverware also has bottles of soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, and bowls for dipping. The pancakes are incredible. Light, flaky, not greasy. These are made by spooning the dough in a spiral or concentric circles onto the griddle. I could eat these all day!

The soup bowls came not long after. They're huge. My was a mix of potato, carrots, mushrooms, tofu, beef, and these delightful noodles in a fairly thick, almost stir-fryesque broth. I wasn't quite expecting a broth that thick; it was tasty, but the vinegar certainly gave it some contrast it was otherwise missing. Some heat (spice, not temperature) would have been good too. The beef bowl was a flavorful clear broth with delicate thin cuts of beef, somewhat reminiscent of pho, and the noodles. My friend used to live in Taiwan, and after her first spoonful she said "Ahh, this tastes like home." On my previous visit, we watched them create the noodles: they have a block of dough, that looks like a loaf of bread, and they stand over a simmering stock pot, and with a knife, shave thin dough strips off the loaf and into the pot. All hand done, all irregular sized, but on average, 6 - 8 inches long, about an inch wide in the middle, with tapered ends. The noodles are doughy, and at the thicker points a bit gummy, but tender and delicious. I think we each only ate half our bowls and were fairly stuffed, and had to get to go containers. But we couldn't leave without first ordering another green onion pancake!

I searched for a website, and found none. I did come across other reviews, and from those, have learned that not all of their noodle dishes feature the hand-cut noodles, so ask if you're unsure. I had previously had the stir fried noodles, which was them. Also, you can ask for your order to be made spicy if desired. The trip is worth it!