On a winter day in Houston, we decided on a whim to do a Taiwanese beef noodle soup (牛肉麵) showdown at some of the popular restaurants in Chinatown. My friends are hungry to hear the results, and it’s more complex than just one clear winner (like most good things in life). So I’ll describe the various restaurants’ 牛肉麵 in more detail.
Tainan Bistro is an always-bustling casual eatery. You can order snacks at the counter, or have a sit-down meal. We ordered the two different types of beef noodle soup.
- The “House Special” beef noodle soup has a more savory/salty taste to the broth, and the beef is sliced thinly.
- The regular beef noodle soup is sweeter and includes the traditional pickled veggies in the broth. The beef is cut in large chunks as is usually found in traditional beef noodle soup.
We could tell that the noodles themselves were definitely cooked from a package rather than handmade; so while they were cooked decently, they just didn’t taste as good as handmade noodles. The broth is not bad, but overall not the most compelling one we tasted.
I Ping Bakery changed owners recently and currently, in addition to a selection of Taiwanese baked goods, they offer a limited menu of entrees. They have a traditional beef noodle soup and a Szechuan style (spicy) beef noodle soup. We tried the Taiwanese 红烧牛肉面. Out of the restaurants we tried this was the only place that offered handmade noodles, and they make a whopping obvious difference. The noodles were the perfect texture, and I could have kept adding noodles in (I had to pace myself for the long haul). Unfortunately, the broth was thin and less complex, or else I think this bowl would have become my favorite. We enjoyed the bok choy. I think this would be a good option for someone who wants to eat less salt. Alas, I didn’t find the broth interesting enough to put this at #1.
San Dong Noodle House
San Dong is the OG. This was my childhood favorite restaurant for 红烧牛肉面, and honestly I confirmed that it is still my favorite overall. In the early years, they had a huge noodle-pulling machine in the back of the kitchen and I loved watching them make their own noodles. The restaurant has since expanded from their hole-in-the-wall location, but the soup still packs an intense flavor-filled punch. I think this broth achieves the ideal umami, though the cooked spinach made it a touch more bitter than the normal bok choy that everyone else uses. There were plenty of pickled mustard greens, and the beef was super tender. I wish we would have remembered to ask for the thick noodles.
Star Snow Ice and Teriyaki (Star Snow)
During my high school years, Star Snow Ice was the PLACE TO BE. All of my friends were getting their shaved ice and boba milk tea from here. We’ve always been curious about their beef noodle soup because I hear varying amounts of praise. This bowl is the one I felt most “meh” about, despite nice touches like a sprig of cilantro on top. The noodles were so-so, and the broth was a little too sour. This one probably fell to last place, honestly.
So, how did we eat so many bowls of beef noodle soup? We split every bowl 5 ways! Overall, I would suggest going to San Dong for beef noodle soup, and ask for the thick noodles. If you’re craving handmade noodles and you’re less concerned with having the traditionally intense and complex broth, then go to I Ping Bakery.
Take this all with a grain of salt (heh). We were just looking for a fun family adventure during the holidays, and there were many things on the menus that we didn’t have time (nor tummy space) to try.
Happy slurp slurp slurp!