For many people, noodles serve as nothing more than the vessel for a sauce. But fortunately, Dallas has a few Asian restaurants doing noodles where they put as much attention into the noodle as what goes on top.
Hand-pulled noodles, also called "la mian" in Chinese, are noodles literally pulled by hand. Before machines were invented, hand-pulled noodles were the only kind. To make them, you start with dough — flour, water, and salt — then fold and spin until you get many thin strands. The more you pull and twist, the skinnier they get.
Experts who've done it over and over are able to get the perfect consistency and stretchiness. Atmosphere and humidity have an effect on the outcome. The longer you do it, the better you get, says Andrew Chen, founder and chief noodle-maker at Monkey King Noodle Co. in Deep Ellum.
"I always equate it to sushi chefs," Chen says. "It doesn't take too long to learn how to gut a fish, but there's a big difference in the guy who just started versus the sushi master with years under his belt who delivers a refined experience."
Chen sees hand-pulled noodles as part of the overall artisanal movement, in which diners are coming to appreciate exactly what goes into their food.
Many Asian restaurants make a variety of noodles, using techniques such as cutting and tearing, usually done behind the scenes. But a few put the noodle-making process on display, letting you watch as the noodles are twisted and spun.
You go for the show and stay for the noodles.
Chen is one of a small group of noodles masters in Dallas-Fort Worth. Another was the famed Zhang Xue Liang, aka Charlie Zhang, who was at Royal China for many years, then went to Imperial Noodle in Richardson, although he is no longer there; he has reportedly returned to China.
You can enjoy hand-pulled noodles — as well as the show of making them — at these restaurants:
Chinese restaurant in Coppell is from Yang Sun and Willy Lu, one of Dallas' top noodle guys. They've been doing hand-pulled noodles since they opened in 2016, and are about to open a stand at the Legacy Hall food hall in Plano, where they'll feature items prepared using traditional Chinese methods and authentic ingredients, such as Peking duck, hand-pulled noodles and Yangzhou fried rice.
New restaurant opened in Southlake in April, where it's doing authentic mainland Chinese food in an upscale setting. The menu is expansive, with Szechuan, Shanghainese, Americanized Chinese, dim sum, and even a few Thai items, such as pad Thai. But they're really slaying diners with their hand-pulled noodles and dumplings.
Monkey King founder Andrew Chen helped nudge hand-pulled noodles into hipster terrain when he opened this restaurant in Deep Ellum, where it has served as an exemplar of this artisanal trend at its finest. They make their noodles by hand, which you can watch through an exhibition window while you wait for your order.
Longtime Chinese restaurant was one of the first in town to do hand-pulled noodles, as a showcase for the skills of the famed Charlie Zhang. He has since left, but the restaurant still does noodles in-house, although for now they're doing mostly cut noodles.
Tei An is Japanese, not Chinese, but you can't have a story about hand-made noodles in Dallas without them. Chef-owner Teiichi Sakurai elevated noodle-making into artisanal status with his soba noodles, which are hard to find in any restaurant across the U.S., never mind Dallas.