Heavy Noodling specializes in the sort of strands 100 generations of Chinese chefs have regarded with horror: thick, clumsy noodles that run somewhere between spaetzle and pappardelle, self-consciously rustic things that taste mainly of themselves, whether fried with mixed seafood and lots of garlic or immersed with tendon in a deep, anise-scented beef broth; dipped in vinegar or painted with a patented smoky house chile oil. Hand-cut in the style of Shanxi province, the noodles are irregular and kind of lumpy, which enhances their ability to pick up sauce. They have that good, dense pasta bite you find sometimes in farmhouses outside Modena, but rarely in Chinese noodle houses. 153 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; (626) 307-9583. Open daily for breakfast and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $8–$14. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. Cash only.
Chiu Chow restaurants make slippery rice noodles the width of your little finger, submerged in broth and garnished with things like boiled duck legs and sliced pork. At Kim Chuy, the “special noodles” include duck and shrimp, squid and cuttlefish, and four kinds of fish cake. The Chiu Chow spiced beef noodles come in a gritty, spicy demi-curry, almost crunchy with ground nuts; fried noodles — with chicken, with beef, with mixed seafood — are fully possessed of that elusive quality that Chinese call wok chi, special wok energy that is possible only in restaurants as small and informal as Kim Chuy. 727 N. Broadway, No. 103, Chinatown; (213) 687-7215. Open daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $8–$10. No alcohol. Validated lot parking. Cash only.
Kotohira is one of the few places in the United States that still makes udon by hand: thick, white and long, diminishing to squiggles at the ends, clean in flavor, with the bouncy resiliency of elastic ropes. Whether dunked in fish soup or anointed with curry; hot in a bowl or cold on a mat; or dry in a bowl and garnished with ginger, green onion and wisps of freshly shaved bonito — however you have it, the wheaty sweetness of the noodles, set off by the clean smoky smack of the dried bonito, is among the most delicious things you have ever eaten. 1747 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena; (310) 323-3966. Open Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $10–$16. Beer and sake. Lot parking. MC, V.
Malaysian cooking is one of the world’s most pleasant, most accessible cuisines — a crazy quilt of Pacific Rim traditions. Here, you‘ll find an “Indian” curry featuring eggplant fillets of fish poached to a perfect underdoneness, and a “Korean” nasi lemak, rice boiled with coconut milk, then mounded in the middle of a platter and surrounded by little heaps of exotic garnishes. Still, be sure to order a bowl of Kuala Lumpur’s decidedly Malaysian noodles: rich, chile-red bowls of coconut-milk-bathed curry laksa with chicken and shrimp; or asam laksa, tapioca-rice noodles in a broth finely balanced between the sourness of tamarind and the sweetness of pineapple, the salt tang of seafood and the bite of fresh chile heat. 69 W. Green St., Pasadena; (626) 577-5175. Open Tues.–Sun. for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $10–$13; dinner for two, food only, $15–$25. Beer and wine. Takeout. Catering. Validated lot parking. AE, MC, V.
While there may be better noodle shops in L.A., the Mandarin Deli remains the standard by which such shops may be judged. The key to ordering noodle dishes here is to specify the handmade noodles, which means you‘ll get wide, thick, square-cut noodles, something like fettuccine on steroids. They taste much better in rich pork stock or in a searing chile’d broth than the spaghettilike noodles you‘d normally get. So much for noodles. The real reason to come to Mandarin Deli just may be the fish dumplings, airy, steamy things filled with a loose, fragrant mousse of whitefish and chopped greens that could serve as a $19 specialty at any high-priced Pacific Rim restaurant in town, except these are better. 727 N. Broadway, No. 109; (213) 623-6054. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $8–$12. No alcohol. Takeout. Validated lot parking. Cash only.
At Mishima, pencil-thick udon noodles have a solid, wheaty taste and the al dente “bite” of good Italian pasta. Soba — thin buckwheat noodles — are firmer, almost chewy, and have an earthy pungency of their own that sings through Mishima’s tart, clean soy broth. (You could probably eat an entire bowl of any of them and ingest less fat than you would from eating a single French fry.) The house specialty, tanuki soba (or udon), tempers the severity of the plain noodles-and-broth with tiny Rice Krispies puffs of fried tempura batter. Curry soba (or udon) is spiked with white-meat chicken and has its broth thickened with yellow Japanese curry, the mild, turmeric-heavy kind you find mantling curry rice at Japanese lunch counters. 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 473-5297. Open seven days for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $15–$20. Beer and sake. Validated lot parking. AE, DC, Disc., MC, V.
Even before 10 in the morning, customers are slurping up these giant bowls of pho dac biet, slices of brisket, tendon, tripe and rare beef submerged with slippery rice noodles in a broth fragrant with garlic and cinnamon, onion and herbs. And no two of them eat it the same way: Some squeeze out a little lime juice; others squirt some chile or hoisin sauce into the soup, or mix in bean sprouts, sliced hot chiles and leaves of fresh Vietnamese basil. If you order the variation called pho tai (noodles with rare beef), you can ask for the meat on the side, dipping the slices of raw beef in hot soup until they turn opaque, then dipping them into a special chile paste. 727 N. Broadway, No. 120, Chinatown; (213) 625-7026. Open seven days 8:30 a.m.–7 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7–$12. Beer only. Validated parking. Cash only.
Sanamluang is a Thai place to duck into and out of in 20 minutes, to come for vast plates of rice fried with mint leaves, seafood and chiles; for big, comforting bowls of chicken soup flavored with toasted garlic; and for wide noodles fried with Chinese broccoli and what seems like 5 bucks‘ worth of shiitake mushrooms. Truly extraordinary — especially when enlivened with a few slices of vinegared Thai chiles from the little jar on the table — is the general’s noodle soup: thin, garlicky egg noodles garnished with bits of duck, barbecued pork, crumbles of ground pork, a couple of shrimp and a teaspoon of sugar, either dry or submerged in a clean, clear broth. 5176 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 660-8006. Open daily 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12–$18. Takeout. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.
Sanuki No Sato
At Sanuki No Sato, udon noodles come in all the standard flavors: topped with crisp buttons of tempura batter in a plain soy-enriched broth, or with chewy bits of rice cake, or with exquisitely slimy Japanese mountain yams. Yukinabe udon — served in a hot, rustic-looking iron kettle and buried beneath half an inch of grated daikon, a sprinkling of grated wasabi and a ferociously spiced cod-egg sac — is refreshing in spite of its bulk, an exotic bowl of noodles you could eat every day. At lunch, there is the sanuki bento, a multicourse banquet served in a lacquered box, a testament to Japanese engineering: I have seen buffet tables with less food on them. 18206 S. Western Ave., Gardena; (310) 324-9184. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $13–$36. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, DC, MC, V.