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Mar 12, 2009 06:12 PM

best asian noodles in Orange County?

I'm looking for recommendations for two weekday meals -- one dinner and one lunch -- anywhere in Orange County. Where would I find the best Asian noodles? My favorite styles are thick or chewy noodles, in rich or spicy preparations, such as:

Korean dokbokki
Korean bi bim nyangmyon (buckwheat noodles with spicy red pepper paste)
Thai pad kee mao (drunken noodles)
Shaanxi-style dao xiao mien (knife-shaved noodles)
Japanese ramen
northern Chinese hand-pulled or hand-cut noodles
Sichuan dan dan mien

Where should I go?

My initial thoughts, scanning the board, included Noodle Avenue in Tustin, but apparently it's closed, and Thai Nakorn for pad kee mao, but I think that noodles are the weak point at its sister restaurant, Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, so I'm not sure Thai Nakorn is a noodle destination.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Bibim naengmyon -- try Shik Do Rak (I know, I know) or Cham Sut Gol, both on GG Blvd. in Garden Grove.

    Pad kee mao -- this is never on menus, but a coworker of mine turned me on to them and the ones at Bangkok Taste, just off the 22 in Santa Ana, are amazing. It's not on the menu, so you can impress the people you go with by ordering off-menu -- the ingredients are common and they're perfectly willing to make it. $6.95 at lunch, unsure about dinner.

    Dao xao mian (knife-cut noodles) are available at Mas Islamic Chinese on Orangethorpe in Anaheim, between Raymond and Lemon.

    Hand-pulled is not possible in OC that I know of -- the only place I can think of is Ma Lan Noodles in Hacienda Heights, where you can choose the thickness and cut of your noodles and they make them on the spot from dough for you and simmer them in the soup. Absolutely dirt cheap -- a large bowl is $6, I think.

    Sichuan dan dan mian you really need to go to Rowland Heights for. Chongqing restaurant next to Ma Lan Noodles has very good dan dan mian, and cheap, but the service is atrocious so be prepared to shout at the waitress. (Ignore that comment if you're Chinese. If you're not Chinese, as I suspect a man named Kaplan is not, be prepared to be given a menu labelled "Mr. Swiss" with such delectable western Chinese delicacies as green pepper beef, orange chicken, and pork fried rice. Return the menu and be firm that you want Sichuan food -- "wo bu pa la!")

    Can't help you on ddukbokki, sorry.

    Point of order, also -- Saipin Chutima, the owner of Lotus of Siam, was the owner of Renu Nakorn in Norwalk (which is excellent but not as good as Lotus of Siam), not of Thai Nakorn. I don't eat much noodleage when I go to Thai Nakorn because I'm too busy being seduced by such treifah as pork-stufffed squid, clams in chile-mint sauce and green mango salad with fried catfish crumbles.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      Thanks very much.

      I don't understand your "I know, I know" about Shik Do Rak. Inside joke for LA hounds?

      My apologies on confusing Renu Nakorn and Thai Nakorn. You're lucky to have multiple great Thai places to confuse. We in San Francisco aren't so lucky.

      Unfortunately I don't have enough time or stomachs for all of these noodles. Assuming you've tried them all, which are your two favorites?

      And I notice no ramen made your list?

      1. re: david kaplan

        I totally glossed over the ramen -- my personal choice is shio ramen with extra pork at Santouka in the food court at Mitsuwa on Paularino Ave. in Costa Mesa, smack dab in the centre of the triangle created by the 55, 73 and 405 freeways.

        Shik Do Rak has made their reputation in OC and Koreatown on being the "Home of Dduk Bo Ssam", or rice wraps for barbecue. It's a barbecue restaurant, which happens to have excellent naengmyon (though I prefer mul naengmyon). Another possibility is Ham Hung.

        Of that huge list, and assuming you can't get any of the above in SF, and assuming you don't want to leave OC, I'd go to Bangkok Taste for pad kee mao (and other things, and make sure you eat the made-in-house coconut ice cream) and the ramen at Santouka (be aware they're slow and it's a food court).

        Bangkok Taste is damn near as good as the Nakorns. Not as imaginative, and certainly nowhere near as big, but what they do they do VERY well, and I'd argue that their khao soi is better than Renu Nakorn's -- the noodles are more toothsome and the sauce is "creamier".

        If you're willing to go to the eastern SGV, which is about 30 minutes' drive from Anaheim with non-rush hour traffic, I would replace the ramen with Ma Lan, mostly because it sounds like you really want to specify your noodles and that is the place to do it. Traffic is heavy northbound on the 57 in the evenings; be aware.

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          If you go to Bangkok taste get the green mussel omelette as well.

          1. re: dagrassroots

            I just had this the other day -- it was REALLY good and I think the sauce is a gateway drug.

          2. re: Das Ubergeek

            A question on Shik Do Rak: will they treat me alright as a single diner? I have very mixed experiences at Korean restaurants alone since they're sometimes (understandably) unwilling to give a single diner the full spread of panchan since I'm only getting one entree.

            And are their naengmyon homemade?

            By the way, I'm strongly leaning toward Bangkok Taste for one meal -- pad kee mao and green mussel omelette -- and am torn between Santouku, Ma's Islamic, and Shik Do Rak for the other meal. San Francisco is lacking in ramen and Korean, so either would be a treat, but it's hard for me to resist really good dao xiao mien (knife-shaved noodles).

            1. re: david kaplan

              Shik Do Rak is a little odd with single diners, yes. If you want specific panchan, ask for them -- and if they start ignoring you, make liberal use of the "get over here" button at your table. I'd go to Santouka or Mas' Islamic instead though.

              It's odd -- you have a Mitsuwa Marketplace in San Jose and a Marukai Membership Store in Cupertino but Marukai has no food court and Mitsuwa's food court is bare-bones. Odd.

        2. If you were thinking of the now closed Noodle Avenue in Tustin, a good bet would be Trieu Chau in Santa Ana off Newhope. I was on a Chiu Chow noodle kick years ago and discovered that there was some weird relationship between Trieu Chau, New Trieu Chau, and Noodle Avenue. I don't know if it's connected by relatives or former disgruntled employees or what, but there is some sort of link between the 3. Of the three I would have ordered them thus:

          1.) Trieu Chau (by a large margin)
          2.) New Trieu Chau
          3.) Noodle Avenue (now closed)

          I only ever get the house special Chiu Chow noodles from these types of places and they're not the spicy soup base you might be looking for, but they also have lots of other items including fried noodles on their menus. There are some pictures of their menu on their yelp page so you can see the variety available. Trieu Chau is messy, crowded, and closes early, but their house special noodles rank as my favorite soup noodles anywhere. And you would think after eating there for almost 20 years I would get sick of it...

          4 Replies
          1. re: huaqiao

            New Trieu Chau is disgusting and ought to be shut down for crimes against gastronomy -- I haven't been to O.G. Trieu Chau because they close early but I hear good things.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              Is this the 'good' one?

              Trieu Chau
              4401 W 1st St, Santa Ana, CA 92703

              1. re: sel

                Yes. Next door to Newport Tan Cang Seafood.

                I'm not linking to the "bad" one -- it's on Westminster and Brookhurst and if God forbid it ever burned down it would cause $800,000 in civic improvements.

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  trieu chau is awesome, here's my report on it:

                  one of the best noodle soups ive had outside of physically being in asia

          2. I can't believe no one - especially my hero, DU - has not mentioned Shin Sen Gumi in Fountain Valley!

            CAVEAT: Before I recount my experiences, let me first say that I have heard that the 'chef' or the guy who was in charge has left recently to be supplanted by someone else, and one of my - Japanese, incidentally - friends claims it's "not the same," whatever that means.

            But onto my experience -

            They do Hakata style ramen, which is a variety found in an area north of Tokyo where they're known for serving noodles in a broth made from pork bones that are simmered for 30 hours (or something like that). What results - oh yeah! - is an amazingly rich, opaque, umami-intense broth, which you can specifiy "light, medium, or strong."

            The noodles - ramen, of course - can be ordered "soft, medium, or hard," and are most excellent, in my opinion, when ordered "hard" - which is more like a degree more well-done than 'al dente.'

            They also ask you to specify the amount of oil, I think, and maybe one more thing I'm forgetting, and you choose from among several - (in Japan, I understand, there would be dozens to choose from) - toppings for your ramen like extra chashu, spicy miso, spinach, corn, roe, etc.

            Half way through your meal, at the point when most of us have eaten all the noodles but still have plenty delicious broth left, your server comes by and asks if you want to order extra noodles - for $1 or so. I always do.

            I've been there about five or six times, and this is by far my favorite ramen place in OC. It is definitely a departure from the "salt, miso, or soy sauce" varieties they offer you everywhere else, and the quality of all the components seems quite good to me.

            The only thing I would warn against is the bbq place next door - not great - and the fact that there is always a tediously long wait (and they won't take a reservation or reserve your spot over the phone). I have also noticed that the sides - things like gyoza, etc. - are just okay to middling, and they're often sold-out on many of the toppings.

            Still, I think it is one of the great hole-in-the-wall places in OC.


            Of the more common "salt, miso, or soy" variety, I like Daikokuya in the Marukai food court - even over Santouka, which I find a degree too salty and aggressive with the miso (I usually get the miso variety).

            12 Replies
            1. re: georgempavlov

              I'm just OK on Shinsengumi Ramen, though funnily, I love the yakitori place next door. But I don't get the miso ramen at Santouka, only shio (salt).

              I don't DISLIKE Shinsengumi, it's just not as good to me as Santouka.

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                Tried shio ramen for the first time recently at Santouka (usually went with shoyu or miso), and enjoyed it. Probably my new go-to at Santouka. I guess the "shio" description just scared me away before, thinking it'd be overly salty.

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  I will admit, though, that the chashu (the thinly sliced pork) seems to be the best at Santouka, but that's just one component, I guess. Maybe I will also try it shio next time.

                  1. re: georgempavlov

                    I'll make you a deal, then -- I'll visit Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen with an open mind next time I have time to go to Fountain Valley for dinner (and can manage to pass Xanh without eating there).

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      Let me know what you think.

                      And this is just me, but... I really like to order it with every component on the extreme side of the spectrum - "hard" noodles, "strong" broth, "heavy" oil. I'm not normally an over-the-top kind of guy, but I did so the first time on someone else's recommendation and did not regret it.

                      Incidentally, you know where I initially heard about this place? David Rosengarten on NPR's The Splendid Table! Can you believe that? He had just returned from a ramen pilgrimage in Japan, and when Lynne asked him about the state of ramen in the US, he mentioned, without a moment's hesitation, that OC was the country's hot spot for such, mentioning this place as a highlight.

                      1. re: georgempavlov

                        Yes it seems there was some kind of change with the bosses at Shin-Sen-Gumi, and I have noticed the difference, for example spicy Miso does not seem as spicy and before, I used to only use half the portion and it was more the enough for me, now I can have the whole thing in my soup. Nevertheless it is still the standard for great noodles for me. I like to have two orders of noodles: one -- hard noodles, low oil, med base; second -- sort noodle, lots base. For toppings I get bamboo, spice MIso, egg, and I like to add lots of sesame seeds that's on the table.

                        1. re: ynedelin

                          Just a note -- just came back from Marukai (we went to the farm in Costa Mesa and then the park across the street) and I just don't get it -- the last time I ate Daikokuya's ramen in Costa Mesa, it was just completely meh -- and today it was sublime (with the exception of the egg, which was great for the white and absolutely horrible for the yolk).

                          Santouka CM is consistently a B+ or an A-; Daikokuya CM ranges from a D to an A+ with extra credit.

                          The pork and onions rice at Daikokuya, though, is always awful and not worth the $3.50 it costs to add it on to the ramen.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                            Hmmm. That's unusual. Maybe they figured out you are THE *DU* (sic with regard to the two articles...) and got their act together?

                            Did you get the shio version?

                            1. re: georgempavlov

                              I just ordered the regular Daikokuya "raumen" -- theoretically it's shoyu-based but it's basically rich pork-bone soup with ramen, bamboo shoots, negi, bean sprouts and an egg. It was -- today -- absolutely delicious.

                              I still think I prefer Santouka, but Daikokuya CM has two things that attract me: it's MUCH less busy, because fewer people go to Marukai than Mitsuwa, and the menu is less annoying to read (seriously, the menu is literally splattered all over the place at Santouka CM -- some of it is before the cash desk, some of it is after the cash desk, there are a zillion combinations of this, that and the next thing, and they expect you to order by number.

                              But -- the shio ramen set at Santouka is worth the aggravation and the usually 20-30 minute wait.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                Yikes, 30 minute wait? I don't think I've ever waited that long - but maybe I'm not there during the rush.

                                Also, in a similar mien, I prefer the shopping experience at Marukai over Mitsuwa, but that's probably another can of worms.

                                1. re: georgempavlov

                                  I do too -- and the fish is much better (and often cheaper) at Marukai, even taking into account the membership fee.

                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                    Also seems to be about the best place in CM to buy a free-range organic chicken.

              2. Report back:

                In the evening I went to Bangkok Taste for pad kee mao and the green mussel omelette. The omelette was awesome, creamy from the mussels and a little crispy on the egg. Pad kee mao was disappointing: I was hoping for more wok char, and I thought it oversauced and wet. I prefer dried, charred pad kee mao where the spice has infused the noodles rather than coating them in sauce.

                The next day I went to Santouka for ramen. It was solid -- better than anything here in San Francisco -- but didn't approach San Jose's Ramen Halu, where the broth is richer, the noodles thicker, and the chashu meatier.

                Next time, Ma's Islamic Chinese for their knife-shaved noodles. Thank you for all the advice!

                1 Reply
                1. re: david kaplan

                  How odd -- I had BKT's pad kee mao the other day and they weren't even slightly wet. I'm sorry you wasted a dish on that, then -- but I'm glad you enjoyed the green mussel omelette, which is one of their standouts!

                2. I think I need to add the beef noodles (牛肉面, niu rou mian) at Ay-Chung Noodle at Walnut and Jeffrey in Irvine. Each time I have them I like them better. The broth is thick and murky and a little oily and rich and deep-flavoured, the noodles are perfectly al-dente thin flat wheat-flour noodles, the beef is in large, tender chunks and the additions -- bamboo shoots, preserved vegetables, fresh mustard greens and green onions -- are addicting. Add in the fact that it's $5.99 and it's even better.

                  The only downside is sometimes they're heavy on the magic flavour powder (MSG).

                  Also, they now take credit cards ($15 minimum) and the ridiculous lines from two years ago when they opened have subsided.

                  Ay Chung Noodle
                  5406 Walnut Ave, C Irvine, CA

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    how does it compare to A&J's? I usually go to A&J's for niu rou mian...they've got a pretty decent version