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Rice noodles at South of the Clouds
South of the Clouds
Photo by Gary He

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Rice Noodles Are the Hottest Cheap Eat of 2018

Whether in beef broth, topped with pork belly, or with chicken confit, rice noodles are finally getting their due in NYC

For decades, the rice noodles of southwestern China have been the neglected stepchild of the noodle family. While the New York City public has happily wolfed down haystacks of chow fun, lo mein, mung bean vermicelli, peel noodles, liangpi, and hand-pulled noodles, the long and sinuous rice noodles associated with places like Yunnan and Guilin have waited on the sidelines. Yes, the pho of Vietnam, a related rice noodle, has long been popular here. But beginning about a year ago, Chinese rice noodles began to flower in Sunset Park, the East Village, Flushing, Greenwich Village, and Chinatown, so that now they constitute one of the city’s fastest-growing genres of Chinese food.

Cheap Eats

What is the virtue of rice noodles? Usually shaped like spaghetti and of varying density, thickness, and tensile strength, they tend to be pale, wobbly, and bland, but these very qualities are virtues in the way they’re used. In Guangxi, for example, where chile oil and chile flakes are often incorporated into sauces and soups, rice noodles form the perfect backdrop for spicy food. In Yunnan, famous for its mushrooms, these and other vegetables and meat products marry well with rice noodles’ subtlety.

Here are some rice noodle shops you can visit today.

Western Yunnan Crossing Bridge Noodle

One of the most famous rice noodle dishes in all of China is something called crossing the bridge noodles, which has a backstory involving a cantankerous scholar on an island, his accommodating wife, and an island reached only by a bridge. In practice, it is a collection of raw materials associated with Yunnan that are tossed in the hot broth at the last minute, including shaved pork, bean curd skin, kernel corn, a raw egg, pickled mustard greens, and Spam, cooking as you watch. Many variations are available here, some fiery hot, via sibling owners Tara and Yong Ting Chen, who franchised this chain from China. 705 59th St., between Seventh and Eighth avenues, Sunset Park

Deng Ji

Mixian at Deng Ji
Mixian at Deng Ji
Photo by Jean Schwarzwalder

Much of the rice noodle action has occurred in the East Village, though it began in Sunset Park. It was inevitable that the phenomenon should also spring up in Chinatown, and without much delay it did on a non-touristy corner beneath the Manhattan Bridge. In Yunnan fashion, the slippery white noodles are served in communal hot pots, most designed along the lines of crossing the bridge, but with lots of optional ingredients, which can be purchased by the item. The broth here is especially labored over, and there are lots of appetizers of a modern Chinese sort. 51 Division St., at Market Street, Chinatown

Rice noodles at  Huaxi-Wang Noodles
Rice noodles at Huaxi-Wang Noodles
Robert Sietsema
Mi fen rice noodles at Yuan
Mi fen rice noodles at Yuan
Robert Sietsema

Yuan

This East Village noodle shop, which took over the Biang! space in the summer of 2017, offers Guilin-style mi fen in a series of eight renditions, some with broth, some dry. Our favorite is hot and sour beef mi fen, which reminds you of the proximity of Guangxi to Vietnam. Its wealth of sliced brisket, pickled long beans, and spicy tart broth partly resembles Vietnamese bun bo Hue. The so-called classic bowl adds crisp pork belly to the same sliced beef, as well as fried soybeans. Also, don’t miss the fried duck. All dishes come from owner Jacob Ding’s family recipes. 157 Second Ave., between Ninth and 10th streets, East Village

Guizhou Huaxi-Wang Noodles

The cuisine of Guizhou, a mountainous province in southwestern China, has much in common with Sichuan cuisine, only its balance of flavors is shifted toward the tart. A well-known aphorism is, “Without eating a sour dish for three days, people will stagger with weak legs.” Both wheat and rice noodles are favored, and blood is often added to sour broths. The soup shown, from the Huaxi-Wang Noodle stall in the New York Food Court, is “red sour beef vermicelli,” which incorporates purple pickled radishes and a lake of chile oil. The shop run by a family from Huaxi, a city in Guizhou, reportedly sells hundreds of bowls daily. 133-35 Roosevelt Ave., between Prince Street and College Point Boulevard, Flushing

Little Tong

Grandma chicken mixian at Little Tong
Grandma chicken mixian at Little Tong
Nick Solares

Helmed by WD-50 alumna Simone Tong, this spot offers the mixian noodles of Yunnan with inventive variations and specials featuring luxury ingredients, but with plenty of traditional flourishes, too. A favorite is the grandma chicken mixian, which uses chicken confit, black sesame garlic oil, pickles, fermented chile, and a scatter of edible blossoms to good effect. Another bowl transfers the flavors of dan dan mian to a mixian context, and there are plenty of appetizers and side dishes to fill out your meal. 177 First Ave., at 11th Street, East Village

The Rice Noodle

Owner Yao Tang hails from Kunming, Yunnan, 200 miles from the Burmese border, and his noodles are like those he ate as a kid. Six bowls are available, plus a few specials each day, incorporating sliced beef, and ground and sliced pork. Two of the noodles come without broth, and the rest with it. The choice called simply beef soup is the subtlest, shingled with slices of brisket, while the one called Mrs. Tang’s is dry and splotched with sriracha (this one has wheat noodles). A recent special featured beef, chopped tomatoes, and bok choy. To ramp up the spiciness, spoon in the sesame-flecked chile oil from the metal caddy on the table. 190 Bleecker St., between Sixth Avenue and MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village

South of the Clouds

Crossing the bridge noodles at South of the Clouds
Crossing the bridge noodles at South of the Clouds
Robert Sietsema

Earlier this year, Liheng Geng, son of the owner of Yun Nan Flavour Garden in Sunset Park, opened the poetically named South of the Clouds (really, an English translation of “Yunnan”). It was more beautifully decorated than almost any other noodle parlor, with dramatic backlit mountains trailing across the walls, and was an immediate hit, especially among Chinese students at nearby NYU. Assembled tableside, crossing the bridge noodles are the thing to get, boasting two meats, fish, and chicken. Pour on the chile oil! 16 W. Eighth St., between MacDougal Street and Fifth Avenue, Greenwich Village

Yun Nan Flavour Garden

This is where it all started, from chef-owner Side Geng. At one time it was the only real Yunnan restaurant in the city, successor to an even smaller place called Yun Nan Flavour Snack on 49th Street, where just a handful of rice noodle dishes were offered. At the newer place, founded in 2014, crossing the bridge noodles are front and center (with black chicken among the ingredients) but two dozen other dry and soupy noodle dishes are available. Some feature crispy pig intestines, pork stew, and sliced beef, plus there’s a roster of snacks and appetizers. 5121 Eighth Ave., between 51st and 52nd streets, Sunset Park

Taste of Guilin

Mi fen noodles at Taste of Guilin
Mi fen noodles at Taste of Guilin
Robert Siestema

Ensconced in the Fei Long Market in a storefront with a separate entrance, Taste of Guilin showcases the mi fen rice noodles of Guilin, where chef-owner Peter Qin and his family used to run a restaurant before moving to the U.S. The southern Chinese city in the Guangxi province is known for its limestone karst hills and scenic lakes. The pork belly noodles come in a bowl with broth on the side, flavored with assorted pickled vegetables, chile flakes, cilantro, and scallions, and garnished with roasted peanuts. Crunch, crunch. 6307 Eighth Ave., between 63rd and 64th streets, Sunset Park

South of the Clouds

16 West 8th St. , New York, NY 10011

Yuan

2115 Rue Saint-Denis, Ville-Marie, QC H2X 3K8 (514) 848-0513 Visit Website

Little Tong Noodle Shop

235 East 53rd Street, Manhattan, NY 10022 (929) 383-0465 Visit Website

South of the Clouds

16 West 8th Street, Manhattan, NY 10011 (212) 888-9653 Visit Website

Western Yunnan Crossing Bridge Noodle

705 59th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11220 (718) 838-4181

Yuan

157 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

Deng Ji

51 Division Street, New York, NY 10002

Taste of Guilin

6307 8th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11220 (718) 833-8806

Deng Ji Noodle House

51 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002

Deng Ji Restaurant

46-22 Kissena Boulevard, Queens, NY 11355 (718) 358-3588 Visit Website

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