Sesame noodles at Mian
Photo: Mai Pham / Contributor
At MDK Noodles in Asiatown, the knife-cut noodles, or kalguksu, arrive in a shiny metal bowl all but submerged in an opaque chicken broth. Digging my metal chopsticks deep into the bowl, I grab a thick helping of noodles, pulling upward so that a cascade of glistening, Instagram-worthy strands dangles before me. As I inhale the silken strands from end to end, they glide effortlessly across my lips, and it’s glorious. I’m reminded of that famous spaghetti-eating scene in “Lady and the Tramp,” and that’s me in this moment, slurping one strand at a time, like a 5-year-old child who’s just discovered the most entertaining form of eating.
Noodles are my comfort. During the pandemic, they’ve also been an affordable luxury in which I could indulge without worrying that I might break the bank. Most noodle dishes average $10 per order, and there’s often enough for leftovers the next day, stretching the budget even further. I feel especially lucky for the variety on offer throughout our city. I can find noodles to fulfill just about any craving when it hits: Vietnamese pho dac biet at Pho Dien; Japanese udon at Ishin Udon; Cantonese dry beef chow fun noodles at House of Bowls; Malaysian char kway teo at Phat Eatery in Katy; and so on.
Houston’s noodle game is also stronger than ever these days thanks to the trend toward specialty gourmet “noodle houses.” MDK Noodles, which was recommended to me by chef Pascal Choi of Azuma Restaurant group, is one such place. The family-owned mini-chain has roots in Korea — the original Myeongdong Kyoja was established in Seoul in 1966. The Shin family opened its first MDK Noodles in Los Angeles’ Koreatown in 2005. When the family matriarch moved to Houston last year, she brought the family recipes with her, debuting Houston’s MDK Noodles in mid-May shortly after the dine-in ban was lifted.
Though you can’t see the noodle-making in action — there’s a giant machine in the kitchen that renders fresh batches of 2-foot-long wheat noodles throughout the day — the proof is in the pudding. They are cooked to order and available in a mild chicken broth or a bracingly spicy one, and nowhere else in Houston will you find a version of kalguksu so strikingly long, elastic or silky. Pull them high above your head. Slurp them to your heart’s content. And if you can’t get enough? Order a noodle refill ($2 per bowl) to enjoy with the broth remaining in your bowl.
As wonderful as they are, a block away in the Dynasty Plaza, Mian just might be Houston’s best destination for noodles right now. Open since September, Mian, which is the Chinese word for noodles, bills itself as a Gourmet Sichuan Noodle House and holds the pedigree to back it up. It was brought to Houston by the same group behind Chengdu Taste and Xiaolongkan Hot Pot Restaurant. And Mian’s first outpost in the San Gabriel Valley is one of the few restaurants in Southern California to score a coveted Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand designation.
Try the recently launched Chowbus, an Asian-food-delivery app where customers can order from different restaurants in a single order with no added fees: chowbus.com.
The standard Mian noodles, used in the majority of the dishes on the menu (there are 13 soup varieties and nine stir-fried or dry noodle dishes to choose from), are utterly delightful, plump and somewhat luscious, with an enviable chewiness that you simply can’t get find in store-bought noodles.
Mixing up the zhajiangmian, a Sichuan-style noodle with ground pork, fried egg, scallions and red oil laced with spicy-numbing Sichuan peppercorns is not only visually arresting (epic noodle pulls are de rigeur here) but masterful in that the sauce and toppings cling to the noodles, imparting just the right amount of spice and seasoning to make your palate stand at attention.
Excellent noodles notwithstanding, another great reason to visit Mian? Noodle refills are free.
Some of Houston’s best specialty noodle houses:
Trendy Asiatown udon house (thick, Japanese noodles) by restaurateur Mike Tran, offering a wide variety of udon noodle soups, pasta-style udon dishes and Japanese curry plates. 9630 Clarewood, Suite A15-B, 713-239-2955; ishinudon.com
Jenni’s Noodle House
With three locations in Upper Kirby, Uptown and the Heights, Jenni Tran-Weaver’s eponymous, Vietnamese-centric noodle house features pho, ramen, vermicelli dishes and more. 3111 Shepherd; 2027 Post Oak; 602 E. 20th, 713-NOODLES; noodlesrule.com
Korean Noodle House
Mom-and-pop restaurant in Spring Branch with some of the best complimentary kimchi in the city, offering a large menu of house-made Korean noodles and other popular Korean fare such as tofu soup and barbecue. 10016 Long Point, 713-463-8870; koreannoodlehouse.wixsite.com
Kuen Noodle House
Chinese mom-and-pop in Asiatown with a large exhibition window where you can watch noodles being pulled by hand or shaved by a toque-wearing robot. Customers can choose from six hand-pulled noodle widths. 9140A Bellaire, 281-888-9236
Charming, tiny Montrose pho house offering customizable beef, chicken and vegetarian pho options. 1717 Montrose, 832-582-6122; lesnoodle.com
Family owned and operated, this Asiatown restaurant is related to the famous Myeongdong Kyoja in Korea, known for its knife-cut noodles, house-made dumplings and fresh kimchi. Noodle refills offered at $2 per order; every person in the party has to order an entree in order to qualify for refills. 9798 Bellaire, Suite F, 281-888-3141; mdkhouston.iorderfoods.com
First Houston outpost of a Sichuan noodle chain that has been awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand designation. The famous dish to get here is the spicy zhajiangmian. As a bonus, noodle refills are free. 9600 Bellaire, Suite 102B, 281-974-1252; miantogo.com
Migo Saigon Food Street
The popular Vietnamese street food known as “mi go,” or thin egg noodles, is topped with chicken, thinly sliced pork or duck at this stylish Bellaire Food Street restaurant by chef-owner Jas Phan. 9393 Bellaire, Suite H, 713-393-7388; migosaigonfoodstreet.com
Restaurateur Mike Tran’s popular ramen spot features fresh, house-made hakata-style ramen noodles and 20-hour simmered tonkotsu pork broth. 9889 Bellaire, Suite 230, 832-804-7755; tigerdentx.com
Now with locations in the Heights and Katy, this ramen spot makes its noodles in-house and offers several options for hakata-style and shoyu ramen, prepared to order according to the customer’s desired level of firmness. Noodle refills offered at $1.55. 1801 Durham No. 2, 832-879-2982; 24025 Interstate 10 W., Suite L, 281-394-7303; samurainoodlehouston.com
RESTAURANTS WITH GREAT NOODLE DISHES AND MORE
This Chinese restaurant does a little bit of everything, including an incredible, scratch-made flat house noodle resembling pappardelle, served with a stir-fried protein on the side. 7855 N. Sam Houston Parkway E., Humble, 281-441-3456; bamboohousehouston.net
Bao Shi Yi
This Chinese breakfast and snack house offers a variety of steamed bao buns, soup dumplings and house-made noodles. 9715 Bellaire, Suite B, 832-925-7913; baoshiyibunhouse.com
Korean barbecue restaurant offering smokeless charcoal grilling; the owners brought a machine over from Korea for the express purpose of making the cold buckwheat noodle dish known as naengmyun. 609 W. Sam Houston Parkway S. No. 96, 346-261-1500; handambbq.com
House of Bowls
This unpretentious family-owned restaurant serves Hong Kong-style wok cooking with aplomb. The dry-style beef noodle chow fun is widely regarded as the best in the city. 6650 Corporate, 713-776-2288
Mai Pham is a food writer in Houston.