Stretch the Noodle gets points for truth in advertising. The downtown Chinese operation specializes in, yes, noodles—hand-stretched, pulled, double-bounced, and thumped all day long by Xuemei Simard inside the homey cart the Beijing native runs with her husband, Duane.
On weekdays, the lunch wait for Simard’s tight menu can run long. But there are few midday meals downtown that better nail the balance between thrift and bone-deep satisfaction.
Hand-stretched noodles are still a relative rarity in Portland—the Simards run one of the only carts in town serving the labor-intensive strings. The noodles are solid—lacking in chew on occasion, but for an $8 takeout lunch they’re awesome.
La mian noodles in Sichuan beef bone broth is the cart’s ringer: the soup thrums with cinnamon and five spice, fall-apart hunks of beef, crisp bits of bok choy, and those slippery, slurpy noodles. The whole bowl is showered with peanuts, fresh ginger and garlic, numbing Sichuan pepper, and herbs, each bite bouncing with a bright and savory kick courtesy of the cart’s smoky Korean/Mexican chile blend.
The most ordered dish is the chao mian stir-fry, seared up with a straightforward veggie mix and bits of chicken and dressed with that killer chile blend and soy sauce. On first bite, it’s tame—but just wait. Unlike the soup, this dish just gets better as it sits, the smoky chile sauce filling every cranny and turning those noodles into chubby, chewy fire bites.
Oddly enough, one of the cart’s highlights isn’t a noodle at all. Simard also makes a mean jian bing, the Chinese street food that became a Portland obsession a while back. Bigger, greasier, and crunchier than the (also great) version up the street at Bing Mi!, it’s a maximalist fold of green onions, eggs, wonton crackers, and andouille sausage slathered in spicy sauce that’s overwhelming in the best way.
Be on the lookout for specials, too, from pork dumplings hiding whole butterflied shrimp to panfried pork buns. Noodles, apparently, are just the beginning.