Dai Ho's proprietor, Jim Ku, has had a bad-boy reputation as the real “soup Nazi” for years (the restaurant has been in operation for more than 31 years). If you ordered a dish he didn't want to serve you, he'd turn you down and offer you another dish. Perusing the newspaper or a magazine while digging into your noodles was strictly verboten. A sign above the dining room specifically states: “No Book & Newspaper Reading, Please.” And it goes without saying that, due to the limited space of roughly a dozen tables, you'd likely have to share your table with a neighbor, maybe two. Despite the draconian rules and regulations, hungry hordes have flocked here in droves for all of those years. One reason is what's on the plate, or more accurately in the bowls.
Carefully prepared noodles, made in-house, are dressed with sesame sauce and the perfect ratio of chili oil. This bowl of noodles is called dan dan mian. The noodles are slicked with the chili oil but far from greasy. The chili oil adds the necessary heat to provide a contrapuntal contrast to the sweetness of the nutty sesame sauce. For the uninitiated, the chewy noodles may remind you of the noodles in spaghetti and meatballs, though significantly tastier.
These days you'll more likely to see Ku's wife, May Ku, presiding over the tiny dining room and the kitchen. She's somewhat stringent, too, yet she will sweetly explain dishes in loving detail to newcomers. Some say the gruff demeanor is just part of Taiwanese hospitality.
The small space has a counter at the front where plastic containers house various cold side dishes: Think roasted peanuts interspersed with tiny fried silver fish, bamboo shoots, a refreshing pickled cabbage salad reminiscent of a reticent kimchi, and a slew of charcuterie plates. Before ordering your bowl of noodles, you'd be wise to order the spicy, simmered beef tendon with dried bean curd. The tendon is sliced incredibly thin, slicked with just enough chili oil to coat each slice, and possesses the unctuous chewiness prized by fans of this cut. Even if you're not predisposed to enjoying offal meats, this would be the place to try it. Taiwanese charcuterie is just as worthy of high praise as its Italian and French counterparts when it comes to meticulously cured meats.
Taiwanese beef noodle soup will be on virtually every table of the tiny restaurant. The beef shank has been stewed for hours before being added to the deep, murky, soulful broth loaded with chili, pepper and star anise. Depending on your absolute limit, the broth's heat can be kicked up many notches to fit your taste. Medium spicy works well. The noodles are thick, supple and soft; the broth has the depth of flavor you usually get only in a home kitchen; and the slabs of beef shank are beyond tender. Each bowl is showered with minced scallions and fresh spinach leaves to add some greens to the bowl and lighten it up. It's a supremely delicious bowl of noodles.
Dai Ho is cash only. And you probably could surmise that it has severely curtailed hours (it's open only for lunch, six days a week). But when the craving hits, no other beef noodle soup will do.
9148 E. Las Tunas Drive, Temple City; (626) 291-2295