The level of hand-pulled Chinese noodle showmanship on display at Noodle Man in Happy Valley is high. Like, Benihana veteran fused with a yo-yo world champion level high. Here, the glass-walled kitchen gives a front-row seat to experts twisting, slamming, and flinging strands of elastic dough, stretched, cat’s-cradle-style, into the restaurant’s regional Chinese dishes.
Noodle Man (15888 SE Happy Valley Town Center Dr), which opened in 2017, is the third outpost of the national chainlet, which, inexplicably, also has locations in Virginia and Las Vegas. It fits in nicely with the strip mall, condos-on-a-hill aesthetic of Happy Valley, with a long, dark room decorated with kitschy faux-brick wallpaper and laminated illustrations of the millennia-old art of hand-pulled Chinese noodles.
You’re here almost exclusively for the noodle soups: their key ingredient is cut or shredded into various widths and gifted with a remarkable tooth, chew, and slurp-worthiness. Lanzhou beef noodle soup, from China’s North-Central region, has the sweet, salty, herbaceous magic of a good pho, with slices of fatty beef tenderloin. One step up on the comfort scale is a beef brisket-tomato soup: a dark, caramelized stew, flirting with French onion soup territory, with hunks of melty brisket and fresh greens. For my money, I’m in it for the Shanxi knife-sliced-noodle soup, a salty chicken broth strewn with frayed ribbons, juicy pork meatballs, and a float of chile oil. It’s one of the best soups in the city, hands down.
The rest of the menu, which sprawls from spring rolls to kung pao fried rice, feels like a necessary evil for American palates. Yes, stir-fried noodles, like the Zhajiang with sweet crumbles of caramelized pork and chunky cucumber, are a great showcase for the toothsome strands, but they can easily stray into sweet-goopy territory. (And no amount of Around the World or Walk the Dog can make spongey Mongolian beef chow mein worth a drive to Happy Valley.)
But if your incisors beg for the elastic chew of real hand-pulled noodles, there’s no better place around for a fix.