For some, the first hint of a fall temperature drop sends them running to the nearest Starbucks for a pumpkin spiced treat. As for myself, I have a different siren, in the form of the glowing beacon of Houston’s bustling Chinatown. By now, I’m sure we’re all well aware of the deliciousness that emanates from this vast, culture-rich neighborhood, but there’s just something about the tease of cooler weather (I use the term “cooler” very lightly…) after a bleak summer of torture that gets us craving a bowl of hearty noodles. I consider myself an amateur Chinatown aficionado of sorts, so I’ve compiled a list of my go-to dishes of equal parts noodles and comfort from across Asia to warm you up as the weather cools down.
Chow Fun with gravy at Fufu
Fufu Restaurant or Fufu Cafe’s Pan Fried Flat Noodle with Beef and Broccoli or Beef Chow Fun is a quintessential Cantonese dish. Thick, chewy flat rice noodles are pan-fried to achieve a perfect char to give it a little crisp on the edges. After, Chinese broccoli and tender beef are tossed in to tie it all together. This dish can be found throughout Chinatown without any problem. However, what sets apart Fufu’s variation for me is their flavorful brown gravy. Unlike other counterparts, they saute chunks of ginger along with the noodle dish, and their sauce has a slight hint of ginger and garlic that always seems to be missing from other places. It’s definitely a go to every time we hit up Fufu. Though I like extra gravy, if you prefer a dry Chow Fun, Tan Tan is a close runner up. Complete with the classic Chinese broccoli and beef combo, their simply pan-fried version is smoky and just as comforting. Dun Huang Plaza, 9889 Bellaire Blvd #105, Houston, TX 77036
Tiger Den’s Dipping Noodles, or Tsukemen Tan Tan, is a unique take on two already unique noodle dishes. Tsukemen, or cold dipping noodles, is a Ramen style served with the noodles and broth separate. Now, don’t think cold like a Korean Naengmyeon iced noodle dish, it’s just “cold” in the sense that by being separate, the noodles are cooled, the broth, however, is still very hot. The Tan Tan part comes from Dan Dan Noodles, a Chinese classic noodles dish chock full of fiery Szechuan spices and minced meat. Now, imagine those two together, and you get an explosion of flavor, textures, and a perfectly content spice induced runny nose. Tiger Den’s version is deceiving because while your friends are getting giant bowls of brothy Tonkotsu, you may initially feel a little jealous of your seemingly tiny bowl of Tsukemen. However, when you reach in with your spoon for that initial stir, you’ll see a magical combination of ground pork AND sliced pork belly, peanuts, green onion, mushroom, a soft boiled egg, and much more. The combination of the perfectly chewy, housemade noodles and the spicy, hearty broth has won me over time and again! 9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036
House of Bowls’s Seafood Curry Udon Soup, was a crowd favorite when I asked my friends what their iconic Chinatown dishes were. Not having had it before, I knew I had to try it because coming from House of Bowls, it had to be a winner. House of Bowls is a Bellaire classic, boasting hundreds of dishes from different countries. Though at it’s core it is a Hong Kong style restaurant, their take on Japanese Kare Udon, or Curry Udon Soup, is definitely a winner. The broth is light and flavorful, with a curry flavor that is far from overwhelming. It is filled to the brim with squid, crab, and shrimp, but the showstopper – the Udon noodles. Thick, chewy, and perfectly slurpable. We were enjoying it so much that the table next to us asked us what we ordered and got their own. This dish quickly found it’s way to the top of my cold day roster! 6650 Corporate Dr, Houston, TX 77036
Bun bo hue at Duc Chuong
Duc Chuong Midnite easily boasts the BEST bowl of Bún bò Huế in the city. Bún means rice noodle, bò is beef, and Huế is the central Vietnamese city where this majestic soup hails from. It packs many different intense flavors together in a way that works in perfect harmony. You get the savory and citrus notes of the broth immediately, with beefy and lemongrass-y flavors in the forefront. Then, you’re hit with the funky brininess of the salted shrimp paste, and next, the spice of the sheen of red chili oil that coats the top of any good bowl of Bún bò Huế. In addition to the broth, you’re greeted with a medley of different cuts of meat: thinly sliced beef, pig’s foot (that I recommend you ask for sliced to minimize splashing), chunks of congealed pork or beef blood (it’s not bad, I swear!), and my favorite: cha lua, a Vietnamese pork loaf steamed in banana leaves. All of this along a cascade of fresh, thick rice noodles makes this my ultimate comfort food, and Duc Chuong is where it’s at. They know it too, as this is literally the only food on the menu, now all you have to do is decide whether you want a small or a large! Also, we’ve heard rumblings of a BYOP, Bring Your Own Pot, rumor, where you bring your own pot and have it filled by them. This is TBD, but we’ll keep you posted. 12148 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77072
Pho at Pho Dien
Now, of course, we couldn’t have a noodle list without pho. Oh, pho, the ultimate bowl of comfort. Whether nursing a cold, a hangover, or just a bad day, pho has that special something to make you feel a little bit better. Now, we all know about Pho Binh by Night. Open late, always packed with smiling patrons enjoying steaming bowls of beefy goodness. It’s definitely a favorite, and my initial first pick on my pho list. They’ve built an empire on top of an amazing broth recipe that you can always count on to hit the spot; and that bone marrow soup? Oh. My. God. A little bone marrow atop a spoonful of rice noodles and their savory broth? Perfection. However… I said initial first pick. When discussing my love for Pho Binh with my friends, I was always greeted by an obvious divide in loyalty. It was always Pho Binh vs. Pho Dien. I had to see for myself what this madness was about even if it meant betraying my beloved Pho Binh. I went in with every ounce of skepticism, only to have it washed away by what is now my absolute favorite rendition of our dearest Vietnamese noodle soup. Pho Dien has somehow –further– perfected their beef broth. It comes to the table and is noticeably more clear than it’s Pho Binh counterpart. After that initial slurp, you’re greeted by a beef flavor so pure yet so simple. My friend, another Pho Dien first timer, and I sat in silence as we marveled bite after majestic bite. It all made sense why people waited so patiently in line for this. It wasn’t overly perfumed with cinnamon and clove and was almost too perfect to taint with any lime/hoisin/sriracha. Pho Binh still holds a special place in my heart, but consider me a convert. 10623 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77072
Now, with a spread as huge and diverse as Houston’s Chinatown, we’re so fortunate to be able to say that this is only the tip of the noodle iceberg. Hopefully, this roster is enough to last you at least a couple of visits to Bellaire. However, don’t fret! Our minds are already turning as to where we’ll take you next. Until then, happy slurping!