Some New Noodles
Noodle eating continues to be all the rage among the cheap-eats populace, and the recent expansion of Flushing favorite Xi’an Famous Foods to two Manhattan locations has only increased the ecstatic slurping sounds you hear around town. Xi’an’s Savory Lamb Cumin Hand-Pulled Noodles ($5), dressed with spoonfuls of several invigorating sauces plus red-chile oil, tahini, and a mingling of cumin-laced bits of lamb, is the Underground Gourmet’s all-time favorite budget noodle dish, but the equally lip-smacking Liang Pi Noodles, served cold with luscious, spongy, Wheat Thins–size squares of sauce-soaking gluten ($4), are the way to go in hot weather. Both pretty much define the meaning of the term al dente; they’re rough and ragged, chewy but tender, with a profoundly satisfying mouthfeel. Note that the Chinatown branch (88 E. Broadway, nr. Forsyth St.; no phone) is standing room only, accommodating three hunched slurpers max, while the brand-new and comparatively palatial East Village outpost (81 St. Marks Pl., nr. First Ave.; no phone) has about ten seats. Judging by the way the neighborhood has pounced on this welcome arrival, though, your chances of scoring one aren’t so good.
Seats are also at a premium up in Hell’s Kitchen at the new Totto Ramen (366 W. 52nd St., nr. Ninth Ave.; 212-582-0052), a spare ten-stool soup kitchen from the team behind the excellent Yakitori Totto and Soba Totto. (Its instant popularity has induced management to convert another of its holdings, Yakitori Torys, into Hide-Chan Ramen [248 E. 52nd St., nr. Second Ave.; 212-813-1800], specializing in tonkotsu, or pork-bone, broth.) The popular choice among the starchy-food enthusiasts here is the Totto Spicy Ramen, made with a deeply flavored chicken-based broth and some good, springy noodles delivered daily from Soba Totto across town. Ramen is like kryptonite to the hapless vegetarian, with its super-porky broths and wheels of processed pink fish cakes known as narutomaki, but the no-judgment menu here includes a kelp-based broth, in regular and spicy models, that the omnivorous U.G. heartily endorses.