Slippery, slithery, shimmery noodles— how we love you! It’s hard to imagine life without the noodle, as humankind has been blessed with the noodle’s delights for a very long time. Eons, in fact: the Chinese invented the noodle thousands of years ago; recently, archeologists unearthed a 4,000-year-old bowl of millet noodles. We’ve been sucking them up with great gusto ever since. Made from flour, salt and water with slight variations between noodle types, this simple recipe makes magic on our plates and in our tummies. The world of Asian noodles is vast, varied and irresistible; here’s a sampling of our local favorites.
SHRIMP PAD THAI
Sam Thai Cuisine
Called “the national dish of Thailand,” we join thousands in our love for this one-dish wonder. Sam Thai’s rendition is stellar: Stir-fried rice noodles suspend clouds of soft scrambled egg, translucent bean sprouts and emerald green scallions. Each noodle is generously coated with a sauce that’s sweet/tart with tamarind, a touch of Asian fish sauce and just salty enough with soy sauce. The beautiful mess is topped with crushed peanuts and lime wedges. The protein is up to you. We opted for shrimp for its subtly oceanic flavor and aesthetics. Their toothsome texture jibes perfectly with the spring of the noodles and aqueous crunch of the sprouts. $11.60. 4440 Highway 61 N., White Bear Lake; 651.653.9781.
PHO TAI NAM GAN BO VIEN
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay—“Descending Dragon Bay”—is popular with tourists in Vietnam, where dramatic limestone formations mimic a dragon descending into the tropical depths. Imagine this breathtaking scene as you descend to the depths of a hot bowl of pho, Vietnam’s signature beef noodle soup that cures what ails you. We chose the busiest pho on the menu: Along with scads of noodles, pho tai nam gan bo vien contains eye of round steak, flank steak, soft tendon and tender, intensely flavored meatballs. Soft tendon, you ask? It may sound like something from anatomy class, but it happens to be our favorite tidbit—chewy just short of rubbery, studded with hidden bits of rich fat. The broth is gently beefy, a bit sweet and as clear as a tropical bay. $8.25. 2689 E. County Road E., White Bear Lake; 651.653.6868.
SPICY SINGAPORE NOODLES
The menu at this eatery offers a dazzling noodle selection that runs the gamut of Asian noodle types: chow mein, lo mein, pad thai and Saigon rice noodles, to name a few. The spicy Singapore noodles captured our attention. These rice noodles are steamed till just tender, then sautéed with carrots, bean sprouts, pea pods, scrambled eggs, onions and bamboo shoots—a busy garden of treats bound together with a gently spicy sauce; just add your choice of protein. On a nice night, you’ll want to do your slurping al fresco on the impressive patio. $10.95. 1190 County Road J, White Bear Township; 651.426.3538.
SUBGUM CHOW MEIN
Bald Eagle Restaurant
What the heck is subgum? It’s one of those quaint words that conjure vintage Chinese-American kitsch. It simply means “numerous and varied” in direct translation; in the kitchen, it means one or more meats and seafood combined with vegetables. Chow mein noodles are another vintage treat: long in length (for longevity and health), they are reminiscent of spaghetti. At Bald Eagle, they’re tossed with sautéed button mushrooms, bright chunks of carrots and crunchy broccoli florets, and napped in a slippery sauce that makes the whole thing glisten. Get the lunch special for a pittance—it comes with a hearty pile of fried rice and a crunchy egg roll. $5.95. 4687 Bald Eagle Ave., White Bear Lake; 651.762.3747.
SuiShin Japanese Cuisine
Noodles make the best one-pot meals. Case in point: the nabeyaki udon at SuiShin. Udon wheat noodles are fat, round and squishier than others; they dissolve in the mouth with nominal chewing. They love to swim in a lightly flavored broth, and in this dish, are joined with chunks of chicken and vegetables. Special touches include an egg cracked directly into the hot liquid; it cooks as it sits. The aromatic soup is topped with crackling fresh shrimp tempura, lounging on the surface like a bathing beauty. $12.50. 125 Village Center Drive, North Oaks; 651.765.1317.
VIETNAMESE SALAD NOODLES (BUN)
Don’t judge this restaurant by its strip-mall exterior. Step inside a lovely scene of Asian décor and face the slightly overwhelming choice of Vietnamese, Chinese or Thai cuisine. We were interested in a lighter kind of noodle dish, so we ordered the beef salad noodles, aka bun. The loose balls of thin vermicelli-like rice noodles look like little tumbleweeds on the plate; they’re served slightly warm or at room temperature, i.e., just-out-of-the-pot fresh. Marinated grilled beef adds a bold punch of chewy texture and tangy spice; cucumbers, cilantro and crushed peanuts throw in coolness and crunch. $9.99. 1011 Meadowlands Drive, White Bear Lake; 651.340.1748