My search for the platonic ideal of hand-pull noodle places on 8th avenue is over. I found it in a packed dining room behind a big window on the west side of the avenue, between 54th and 55th streets.
I’ll confess here to a bit of Chinese restaurant timidity. Not about the food, which I love (up to and including offal and strange sea creatures and slippery textures and pungent preserved vegetables), but about navigating an unfamiliar language and culture. When I saw the crowded tables, the seemingly chaotic line at the cash register, and the Chinese-only menu on the wall, I almost slunk out. I’m very glad I didn’t.
There is a system to the place, and it isn’t actually that difficult to grasp. If you’re an Anglophone, don’t panic that the posted menu is only in Mandarin. There are paper menus in English by the register . . . or, since the place will almost certainly be packed, just point to what someone else is eating that looks especially good to you. Place your order at the register, having first grabbed a drink from the cooler if you want one, pay (cash only), and then cruise the room looking for a place to sit. Don’t be shy. Table-sharing is expected, so go ahead and plunk yourself down wherever there’s an empty chair. Or if it’s especially crowded, hover close to someone who looks to be finishing up. (Restaurant workers come by regularly to clear away bowls and wipe down tables.)
When your food is ready, it will be carried into the dining room by a waitress who shouts out the order (in Mandarin, of course) and expects you to wave to claim it. This could be a problem for non-Chinese speakers, but it isn’t. The person working the cash register keeps tabs on those orders (there weren’t many of them the day I was there), and signals the waitress where to deliver them.
I ordered the house special hand-pull noodle soup ($7.00). It came loaded. In addition to the hand-pulled noodles, there were thin slices of spiced beef in there, and chewy beef tripe, and gelatinous beef tendon, and bok choi. There was also something smooth and tan and round that I thought at first was a mushroom – until I investigated with my spoon and discovered it was a tea egg, flavored with soy and star anise.
The rap on Sunset Park’s noodle places (and my experience at several of them) is that the broth lacks depth. This broth did not.
But why stop there? Wong Wong generously offers condiments to customize your soup, including the standard (squirt bottles of black vinegar, pots of chilis in oil) and the not-so-standard (plastic bins of preserved vegetables – mainly cabbage, I think – and fresh cilantro). After the older man in work clothes sitting next to me dumped a pile of preserved vegetables and a salad’s worth of cilantro on his soup, I did the same.
There aren’t quite enough of the preserved vegetable and cilantro bins to go around, but never mind. You just cruise the room to find what you need. And so the hoodie-wearing guy with spiked hair and his friend in the fedora took the preserved vegetables from the young mother with her toddler, who’d taken them from the grandmother and grandfather at the next table and so on and so forth.
Like everything else about Wong Wong Noodle Soup, it seems chaotic, but it works.
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Wong Wong Noodle Soup Inc., 5410 8th Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn 11220