Magic Noodle, which opened on University Ave. in St. Paul (the Twin Cities’ true Eat Street) last summer, represents a small step in the evolution of the broader Chinese food scene in the Twin Cities. The local Sichuan scene is already pretty strong, with a few restaurants that would be viable propositions in much larger metros with larger Chinese populations. But beyond that there’s been little: our dim sum scene hovers around the edge of dismal, there’s no real Cantonese food of quality or any other regional Chinese restaurants for that matter (that I’m aware of at any rate). And so to have a decent hand-pulled noodle shop open up feels like a big thing. Yes, similar noodle soups are available at restaurants like Grand Szechuan as well but it’s good to have a specialist. Based on our meal at the start of the month I wouldn’t say that they’re very much more than a decent hand-pulled noodle shop at the moment but I’m not complaining too much.
We ate there a few days before leaving for India at the start of the month. We had a lot of packing to do but ahead of a month of Indian food also wanted to get in one meal in a genre we wouldn’t be eating in India. We descended on them for lunch on a Saturday with part of the crew we usually eat out with and tried a good chunk of the menu.
The restaurant is bright and airy and done up in a manner not unusual in the genre with thankfully not too much of an overload of ethnic kitsch. There are two dining areas that form an L with the kitchen in between. There is apparently a viewing area where the chefs can be seen hand pulling the noodles but we weren’t seated anywhere near it and so didn’t see any noodles being hand pulled. We did eat a lot of hand-pulled noodles though. But we started with other things of which there were far more than I’d expected. Indeed, hand-pulled noodles may not even constitute the majority of what’s on the menu—and gluten-intolerant people will be glad to know that they also have a selection of rice bowls.
What did we eat?
- Spicy beef shank. Tender slices of shank, nicely dressed with a decent chilli kick. A good start.
- Sichuan wonton in chili oil. Not bad but not a patch on the versions at the better Sichuan restaurants in town. And the wontons were very small.
- Fried beef dumplings. Decent but not much more.
- Scallion pancake. Also decent.
- Cumin mutton sandwich. This, however, was pretty good and one strapping young member of the party announced he would be happy stopping in just to get one of these as a quick bite to go.
- Lanzhou noodle soup. This mild soup was mine and I quite liked it.
- Shanxi shaved noodle soup. The noodles were good but the soup could have had a little more depth of flavour, I thought.
- Taiwanese tomato beef brisket noodle soup. This was ordered with some trepidation but was a big hit around the table (we took promiscuous tastes of each other’s soups/noodles). The tomato is just there as a souring agent and the soup itself had a nice complexity of flavour.
- Chongking spicy noodle soup. Two people got this and both liked it a lot. As one of them was the missus I got a big whack at it. I liked it but thought it needed a little more sourness and a little bit of funk. I’d not turn a bowl down though.
- Sichuan cold noodle. One of the six adults eschewed a noodle soup and got this instead. It was a good choice especially once kicked up with a bit of extra chilli oil.
- Braised egg, braised pork belly with rice. Our boys shared this rice bowl which came topped with an unfeasible amount of stewed pork belly. They quite liked it.
Launch the slideshow for a look at the restaurant and the food. Scroll down to see what we thought of the service and to see how much it all cost.
Service was friendly and present and the food all came out pretty quickly. With a bunch of teas and soft drinks the total came to about $155 with tax and tip. Counting the kids as 1 adult that works out to about $22/head. Not cheap but a fair value for what we ate. And, of course, you could get out for much less with just a bowl of soup (and the portion sizes are pretty good too). Again, this is not earth shattering stuff but it’s good to have an alternative to pho and ramen in the noodle soup game.
Speaking of which, I’ll have a return to another pho specialist in the Twin Cities Metro soon and another Indian food report from the suburbs as well. Before that, more Indian food reports from India.