For nearly a decade, hounds have headed to eastern Chinatown for fresh Lanzhou-style noodles, pulled by hand and served in soup with a bit of meat—a satisfying budget bite that costs maybe five bucks. At least a half-dozen Lanzhou noodle shops have sprung up over the years to feed the hungry crowds, but jonkyo has been won over by the newest one, Lao Di Fang on Forsyth Street. What sets it apart is its menu, which offers more choices than most of the competition. From a long list of meats—among them roast duck; chicken; beef brisket, leg, and tripe; shrimp, razor clams, and other seafood; and pig parts from rib to stomach to intestine to trotters—jonkyo chose lamb stomach and didn't regret it. "It was very delicious," he says, "and a hearty portion."
The noodles can be had stir-fried as well as in soup, and there are non-noodle options too, including Fujianese-style snacks like fish balls filled with minced pork. The latter item points to a long-recognized geographical curiosity about Lao Di Fang and its rivals: While the style of noodles hails from Lanzhou in central China, the folks who cook and sell them are mostly from Fujian in the south. As it happens, Lao Di Fang occupies the site of the now-departed Eastern Noodles, New York's first Fujianese-owned, Lanzhou-style noodle shop to gain mainstream attention. In the noodle biz, as in the rest of life, what goes around comes around.
A chronic complaint about all these shops—usual suspects include Super Taste and Sheng Wang on Eldridge Street and Food Sing 88 and Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle on East Broadway—is that while the noodles tend to be fresh, springy, and toothsome, the meats are subpar and the soups too often flat and insipid. "[I] could live without really good meat, but a good broth is key," says Lau, who finds Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle the best of an uneven lot.
scoopG, who's been revisiting the neighborhood noodle houses, declares Food Sing 88 the current champ on the strength of its soup, which he finds "packed with the full flavor of beef and chicken bones, onions, star anise and a little bit of Chinese angelica," a medicinal herb. Hand-pulled noodles with seafood comes loaded with clams, fish balls, shrimp, and squid. Optional add-ons include a fried egg (50 cents) and complimentary pickled vegetables, which you spoon into your dish from a bowl brought around by the server (ask for suān cài).
For actual Fujianese noodles from a Fujianese kitchen, jonkyo recommends ban mian, or egg noodles in peanut or sesame sauce, at Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine on Eldridge or C&L Dumpling House on Chrystie. "Authentic Fujianese noodles, simple and cheap," he says, and he's not kidding: a snackish portion of ban mian might set you back $2. These noodles, unlike their house-made Lanzhou cousins, come from a factory, quite possibly the one at Forsyth and Canal streets, where jonkyo says "you can walk by after midnight and see the noodles being churned out, with flour dust all through the first floor." Which brings us right back to Lao Di Fang next door. What goes around comes around.
Lao Di Fang [Chinatown]
28 Forsyth Street (between Canal and Division streets), Manhattan
Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle [Chinatown]
144 E. Broadway (between Pike and Rutgers), Manhattan
Food Sing 88 [Chinatown]
2 E. Broadway (at Catherine Street), Manhattan
Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine [Chinatown]
118 Eldridge Street (at Broome Street), Manhattan
C&L Dumpling House [Chinatown]
77 Chrystie Street (between Hester and Grand streets), Manhattan