Eight Great Noodle Dishes in New York City

Slurpy, bouncy, saucy—what’s more fun than a bowl of noodles? And New York, with its rich blend of cultures, is a fantastic noodle town, one where you can feast on squiggly goodness in places both divey and high-end. Here are just eight of them; there’s a whole world out there for you to find in this city.

1. Shio Ramen at Ramen Setagaya

I have a Japanese friend, a total weirdo named Tetsuo whom we call The Professor and who calls himself a “Ramen MANIAC!!!!” When I visited Japan, Tetsuo schooled me in the ways of ramen. It’s so much more than 15-cent college all-nighter fuel; it’s a dish that inspires incredible devotion and never-ending creativity. But being schooled in ramen in Japan has its drawbacks—you eventually come home and have to eat the sad versions we have here. Even my favorite ramen shops in New York would be C-minus specimens in their homeland, so I kind of avoid them altogether.

BUT! Ramen Setagaya, an offshoot of a shop in Tokyo, opened to some fanfare last year. I went to check it out one night and didn’t stop thinking about the shio ramen for weeks afterward. The broth is thin but complex, trading in the richness of lots of ramen broths for a clean, clear flavor. The noodles are strong work: pleasantly resilient, not as chewy as my ideal, but they give you a nice mouthful to chew on. The toppings are first-rate—tender, fatty slices of pork, scallions, a feathery seaweed, lovely marinated bamboo shoots, and, most importantly, a ridiculously brilliant egg somewhere between hard- and soft-boiled. You can pick it up with chopsticks, but it’s silky-smooth and the yolk half-pours, half-floats off into the broth.

This is ramen The Professor would take seriously.

Ramen Setagaya 141 First Ave. near St. Marks Pl. New York, NY (212-529-2740)

2. “Dry” Hu Tieu at Cong Ly

When I first started coming to this place, it was a real dump. It was dingy and cramped; bad dudes would hang out there and smoke cigarettes, long after the citywide indoor-smoking ban took hold. They’ve since cleaned up and remodeled a little bit, and the owner even started asking people not to smoke.

But through it all, pre- and post-cleanup, Cong Ly has remained my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in New York. Most other Vietnamese restaurants in the city (and some of them are tasty) seem to exhibit a certain sameness—they all have the same menu, and it’s always expansive, stretching across regions and styles and levels of formality—Cong Ly’s menu reads very differently. It looks sizeable, but really most things are variations on the others. The kitchen only does a few things—noodles, grilled meats on rice, spring rolls—and it does them well. Who doesn’t love a specialist?

And the noodles are ace-on. The hu tieu, made from tapioca starch, are fantastic: glassy and thick-cut, chewy and squiggly in the mouth like nothing you’ve ever had. When you order this dish “dry,” they serve the broth separately and toss the noodles with a little bit of oil and oyster sauce, giving them a sweetness and a beguiling, blooming depth. Then they top them with a hard-boiled quail egg, a pair of shrimp, some imitation crabmeat, a few slices of pig. Of course, there are herbs and bean sprouts at your disposal. And, of course, there is the bowl of broth. It’s complex, sweet, deep, and crystal clear. I would even call it clean.

Cong Ly 124 Hester St. between Bowery and Christie St., New York, NY (212-343-1111)

3. Linguine alla Vongole at Il Cortile

I may be making too much of this, but sometimes I say that Italian food is what made me feel like an American. I grew up with Italian kids in New Jersey, and the fact that they ate noodles and were considered “normal Americans” gave me a connection from my home to the mainstream. So I loved pasta. And being the child of Cantonese parents, who privilege seafood above all else, I found myself eating a lot of linguine with clams.

Sometimes my parents would take me from their job in Chinatown to lunch in Little Italy. The linguine with clams at Il Cortile was always my favorite, particularly when eaten while sitting in the palatial back courtyard, which I have since realized is just an opening between old tenement buildings. The pasta is wheaty, sweet, and firm. The sauce is garlic and oil–based, loosened and made slippery with briny clam broth, and the clams are cooked until just opened. Being a fat little kid, I’d always stir in two to six pats of butter, too—a habit that holds over to this day. If loving emulsified clam butter is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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