NEW YORK >> The Bowery already has a restaurant called Great NY Noodletown. But these days, that name could describe the entire city, which suddenly seems awash in noodle menus.
It’s not all lo mein and chow fun. Young, savvy Chinese-Americans are leaning into the regional dishes of their heritage, building restaurant groups that leverage China’s diverse noodle canon.
This fall, Dunhuang, a northwestern-Chinese restaurant whose signature offering is an aromatic beef noodle soup from Lanzhou, opens its sixth outpost, near Grand Central Terminal. A spot near Columbia University is planned for The Tang, a contemporary noodle bar from the 25-year-old restaurateur Yu Li, serving varieties like dan dan mian, a Sichuanese dish made with skinny noodles and dry-fried pork. (He already runs two other Tang restaurants in Manhattan.) And Junzi Kitchen, a Chipotle-like fast-casual place, will soon open its third New York restaurant, near Bryant Park, offering bings (savory crepes) and bowls with a choice of two northern Chinese noodle styles (knife-cut and spring), along with sauces like tomato egg and furu sesame.
NOODLES IN NEW YORK
>> Dunhuang: 320 Lexington Ave. (38th Street), opening in September
>> Junzi Kitchen: 135 W. 41st St. (Broadway), opening in November
>> The Tang: 920 Amsterdam Ave. (105th Street), opening in November
They join popular restaurants like Little Tong Noodle Shop, Hunan Slurp and Little Alley, all of which have found success in eschewing homogeneous takeout staples and embracing more distinctly flavored regional noodle specialties. Little Tong recently opened a second location in midtown, and the owners of Hunan Slurp and Little Alley are planning expansions for next year.
Noodles make a lot of sense for restaurant owners, said Jenny Ji, a partner at Dunhuang: They are familiar to customers, simple to train employees to make and quick to cook. “It’s hard for us to standardize other entrees,” she said, “but it’s easy to standardize noodles.”
The sheer variance in China’s regional noodle styles also fits well into diners’ current preference for customizing, bold flavors and bowls, said Junzi Kitchen’s chief executive, Yong Zhao. Instead of Americanized Chinese food, “We call it Chinese-fied American food,” he said. “Using the treasury of food-obsessed culture in China to make lunch better.”
For so long, Zhao said, “when you brought Chinese food to the American market you had to dumb it down to make Americans understand.” But his generation isn’t interested in softening flavors for anyone. “We’re changing that perspective.”