To say that the menu at Noodle Boy is minimal is probably understating things. You can get noodle soup. You can get noodles without soup. You can get soup without noodles. That's pretty much the end of the story, unless you include a perfunctory dish of Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce.
The soup, based on long-boiled pork bones as surely as the best tonkotsu ramen broth, is good, even potent. The rice noodles, I believe, are there only as a sop to the gluten-intolerant, the only people who have reason to avoid the egg noodles — wire-thin, chick-yellow, exquisitely tangled, with a snap and a springiness you never quite expect from dough in broth. Are there vegetables, a boiled egg, a handful of bean sprouts in the broth? There are not. Broth and noodles. The Noodle Boy has spoken.
Contemplating a beverage? You may choose between water and tea.
In the bowl with broth and noodles, unless you have ordered wrong, there will also be wonton, fat dumplings made with coarsely chopped shrimp and wrapped in gauzy noodles that contain their muscly bulk like a nightie around Ndamukong Suh.
These wonton are wondrous things, delicate and lightly crunchy, scented with toasted oil. If you wish, you may smear them with the Noodle Boy chile sauce, a dense, musky paste of dried chiles, seasonings and oil, a paste that the person sitting next to you may be spooning out of the container like ice cream.
If you happen to be the person spooning sauce out of the container like ice cream, you should know that you can buy jars of sauce to go. The smidge Noodle Boy gives you with takeout orders will be barely enough to get you through tomorrow morning's eggs.
When you order just wonton in soup, you get six wonton. When you order wonton noodle soup, you get four wonton. When you order wonton with bouncy cuttlefish balls and noodles, you get three wonton. It is a matter of priorities.
If you spend much time in the area, you may recognize these wonton, which were the specialty of the late Alhambra restaurant Wonton Time. They were the go-to wonton in the San Gabriel Valley, probably — at least the best Hong Kong–style wonton, which considering the competition is saying a lot. When Wonton Time closed a few years ago, most of us ate less wonton, unless you count the scarlet wonton in chile sauce that most of the Sichuan restaurants serve. In this neighborhood, there is always another noodle.
Andrew Yu, the chef, resurfaced at Noodle Boy, tucked behind Tip Top Sandwiches in a half-empty Rosemead mall. The restaurant couldn't be more hidden, and the bright dining room, although finished nicely, has the smack of fast food about it (you can be in and out in 10 minutes, if that's your thing), yet on weekends there is often a wait. The wonton, trailing behind them fragile scraps of noodle as comets do their faint, sparkly tails, have that kind of gravitational pull.
With the wonton and the noodles — or instead of them, if you are perverse — you can have taut meatballs, bouncy enough to survive a game of golf, or an impressive pile of sliced, sauteed beef soft enough to pose as the model for a Bon Appetit tutorial on velveting. (What is velveting? A Chinese tenderizing technique that involves a marinade of rice wine, salt, cornstarch, egg white and sometimes a bit of baking soda, plus a quick pass through a bath of warm oil before the meat is stir-fried. Velveting renders even tough cuts marshmallow-soft — I'm sure Harold McGee could tell you exactly how the process relaxes meat proteins. You are not going to try this at home.)
But the important topping here, nearly as crucial as the wonton, is the house-made fish ball — less like the firm, rubbery things you usually find in this neighborhood and more like airy slabs of perfected Chinese gefilte fish: soft, white and juicy, coarsely ground but almost delicate, perfumed with white pepper and green onion. Is it kosher for Passover? Not with all those shrimp wonton around. But it should be.
NOODLE BOY | 8518 E. Valley Blvd., Rosemead | (626) 280-8963 | Thurs.-Tues., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. | Cash only | No alcohol | Lot parking | Takeout | Noodle soup $4.75, lo mein $5.50, extra toppings $0.75 apiece | Recommended dish: noodle soup with wonton and/or fish ball