I rarely get over to Betelnut for dinner but last night I sat at the smooth, red counter and ordered a bowl of the Malaysian curry laksa soup. What a perfect bowl of comfort. The shrimp were plump, the shredded chicken tender, the kinked up noodles springy. It was all bathing in a rich, fragrant coconut curry a pumpkin color of orange that could stop traffic. It warmed me up as I shivered my way through yet another restaurant in SF with an open-door policy. (As in the front door is kept open even on windy, cold summer nights.)
As I sneeze my way through a cold that seems to have dropped out of nowhere, I'm still relishing the memory of the laksa today. It got me thinking about Asian noodles and some of my favorites in town. Here are five that come to mind as some of my regular go-tos.
What are yours? Let's make a list.
1. Malaysian laksa at Betelnut (see above)
2. Rad nar at King of Thai Noodle
There are multiple King of Thai's but I go to the one near our Union Square office on O'Farrell off of Powell Street. Whereas I used to be devoted to their pad see ew (a stir-fried big flat rice noodle dish), I'm now a convert to rad nar, which is essentially pad see ew with a humble gravy that glistens a bit with the sheen of corn starch. This dish falls into the ugly but slippery and delicious category. It comes with crunchy, slightly bitter, pieces of Chinese broccoli and your choice of meat. I pick pork.
3. Spicy tofu ramen at Katana Ya
Just a skip from King of Thai is this now-packed ramen joint located just off the heart of Union Square (little do the tourists know what's in their midst). I remember the days when it was a well-kept secret. No more. I'm partial to the spicy tofu with miso broth selection, though all the ramen is good. Beware though because it'll definitely make you sweat. Drink beer with it. Lots.
4. Pho ga at Turtle Tower
At this Tenderloin favorite, the Vietnamese chicken noodle soup is a total classic. The broth is clear and unadulturated barring the noodles that you have to lean over to shovel in your mouth before they slip out of the plastic chopsticks. The service is great and they even have magazines for reading which makes for a great solo lunch.
5. Zaru soba at Mifune
I'm not sure that I can say Mifune has the best noodles, but I've found myself here more often than not ordering the cold soba that comes with a dipping sauce with shredded daikon, chopped green onions and wasabi. Mix it all together, perform the delicate act of dipping noodles (splatter central) and there's nothing more refreshing. I do enjoy ordering the Mifune Special which includes the zaru soba alongside tempura. Hot and cold, fried and fresh—what's not to love?