Last week I wrote about soup, which I suggested is not as popular as it once was, possibly because it is not cut out for the age of share plates.
The exception is noodle soup, especially Asian noodle soups. They’re thriving. It’s hard to find a New York neighborhood that doesn’t have its own ramen shop. Better-than-average pho is spreading out from its traditional strongholds like Chinatown into areas like Greenpoint and Ridgewood. More specialized noodle soups, like prawn mee and mohinga, are available, too, but they are far less common. This makes finding a superior bowl that much more exciting. (Superior mohinga is always exciting.)
There are only eight restaurants below, compared with the ten I told you about last week. But one benefit of seeking out these restaurants is that most of them serve more than one kind of noodle soup. If you end up at Pata Paplean and find you’re not in the mood for blood soup, you can get their very fine tom yum instead.
Beef noodle soup at FeiLong Noodle King, Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Formerly a stall in a supermarket food court, this hand-pulled noodle operation has moved into a restaurant space of its own. At the counter, you specify the cut of beef and the noodle gauge, from extra-thin to extra-wide. The soup that sails to your table minutes later, scalding hot, tastes of star anise and contains a mass of irregularly cut noodles that stay firm and bouncy for an improbably long time.
Hamaguri udon at Raku, SoHo and East Village
The udon soups at Raku are so well made that narrowing the choice to one is really a question of mood and preference. I happen to love the smooth and refined flavor of local littleneck clams in the hamaguri udon. But you might like the duck breast, the amber-capped nameko mushrooms or tempura shrimp.
Khao soi kaa kai at Thai Diner, NoLIta
When they closed Uncle Boons, Ann Redding and Matt Tanzer rescued its majestic khao soi and found it a new home a block or so south at Thai Diner. Curried coconut milk is stirred into chicken broth until it’s thick enough to slide down the egg noodles like maple syrup.
Mohinga at Rangoon, Chelsea and Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
The citrus perfume of lemongrass, the ebb-tide funk of fish sauce, the spreading warmth of fresh turmeric — all contribute to the hypnotic power of Rangoon’s mohinga, the fish noodle soup sometimes called Myanmar’s national dish. Still, I have to admit that whenever I crave it I tend to focus on the hand-sized onion fritter rising from the broth. Can a garnish be essential? This one is.
Nam tok boat noodle soup at Pata Paplean, Elmhurst, Queens
This busy and slightly absurd Thai bar with a stuffed gorilla as a mascot serves a remarkably faithful form of nam Tok, the chocolate-brown blood noodle soup ladled out by vendors in Bangkok’s floating markets. It has the meatballs, the slices of pork meat and liver, the bubbled chips of fried pork rind. And most of all, it has that unmistakable blood broth — sour, sweet, a little spicy and as thick as heavy cream.
Penang prawn mee at Hainan Chicken House
If you believe all noodle soups are soothing, the uncompromising prawn mee at Hainan Chicken House would like a word. The flavors of chiles, shrimp and char in its broth build with each spoonful until the combined force hits you like a rogue wave.
Kome-miso ramen at Ramen Misoya, West Village and East Village
Miso’s expansive flavor and peanut butter-like richness give ramen extra power, helping it to fight back against damp, drizzly Novembers of the soul and other seasonal afflictions. Most ramen shops sell at least one bowl that is enriched by miso; Ramen Misoya specializes in it. Each soup is fortified with one of three misos: shiro, gentle and buttery; mame, long-fermented, dark and pungent; or the familiar light-brown kome miso.
Pho thin Ha Noi at Di an Di, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
The broth is fairly light-bodied, making it a superb vehicle for the scallions, pickled garlic and minced red chiles that float above the noodles. In any case, the liquid will thicken when you stir in the raw egg yolk. Don’t be too thorough; a little leftover egg is wonderful, clinging to the ruffles of shaved brisket crisped in a wok that ring the bowl.