Núodle | Seattle Times Critic’s Pick | ★★★ | Chinese | $ | Bellevue | 14603 N.E. 20th St. Suite #6, Bellevue; 425-395-9999; nuodle.us; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily; no reservations accepted
BELLEVUE — Were you at the bitter end of the line that snaked out the strip mall during Núodle’s opening? That queue was something. People endured two to three hours outside, and after a three weeks of this, management was like, the hell with this, and took down names and called people on their cells when a table opened up.
With 40 shops in China, Singapore and Japan, this Chinese chain has built an empire around this one soup, the Lanzhou-style hand-pulled beef noodle that was the cause of Black Friday-like mania when Núodle debuted at the Bellevue Marketplace shopping center last fall.
If you’ve never heard of it, chances are good that one branch will be coming your way. Bullish Núodle is aiming for nine more openings in our region, including an outpost in the University District as early as October, and eventually, branches in Lynnwood, Kirkland, Sammamish, Renton, Kent, Everett and Tacoma.
But plans to open all within three years may get delayed. In the current political climate, the franchise is having trouble securing work visas to bring in more chefs from China, a spokesman said.
After Washington state, Núodle plans to expand to New York City and Los Angeles.
Núodle is the latest in a chain of Asian imports that have anchored in Seattle or on the Eastside in the last 18 months. They’re all bent on turning this region into the next Richmond, B.C. — that epicenter for Chinese cuisine. The recent roll call includes the acclaimed Chengdu-based hot pot spot Da Long Yi (Green Lake) and the hip Hong-Kong dessert shop Hui Lau Shan (Redmond).
At Núodle, impresarios are banking that the Lanzhou-style beef soup will become the next pho.
The soup comes with a heap of daikon, cilantro, chives and scallions, along with more beef slices than I’ve ever seen in any regular size bowl of pho (especially for only $11.99). It comes with your choice of eight different widths of wheat noodles, though the one that’s the diameter of spaghetti is the one most fitting (stout enough) to stand up to this rich broth.
That broth, a medley of 32 secret seasonings, brims with cinnamon and bark-y, rooty ingredients that you might find in a Chinatown apothecary shop.
It’s served cauldron-hot. Be brave; dive in as you would a bowl of ramen. Slurp and gulp before the springy noodles go limp.
Núodle’s signature soup tastes like a Northern-style Hanoi pho on steroids, in all of its pungency and savory-ness. Its pliant noodle is reminiscent of the al dente texture you might get at a legit ristorante Italiano.
But Núodle doesn’t just peddle noodles. It sells nostalgia to a wave of homesick Chinese students and tech workers. In parts of northwest China, Lanzhou-style noodles are an everyday-working class breakfast. It isn’t gourmet. The sinewy beef slices are more to fortify the meal, nothing more. It’s street food. It’s food for the masses.
That doesn’t take away that this restorative soup can be a revelation. It’s soothing — like scarfing down chicken soup or beef stew on a damp, shivering night.
After a frenzied debut, Núodle has settled into a rhythm. Weekday lunch gets packed, but the wait is practically nil as the tech drones dine and dash in under 30 minutes. On weekends, however, the wait can run 30 minutes with families brunching.
But once you’re seated — there are 20 booths and tables — this is practically fast food. Steaming bowls arrive one-to-five minutes after you’ve ordered.
The soundtrack plays to Núodle’s demographic, bouncing from Mandarin pop to K-Pop. But the main entertainment here happens behind the giant glass windows that wrap the kitchen. They show off the noodle masters spinning and stretching dough into that panoply of noodles. They can weave a strand so thin you can thread a needle with it, a neat parlor trick.
For appetizers, pot stickers are reliable, their bottoms crusty from a quick pan frying, bellies oozing in pork drippings. Even better, though, is the meat pastry — ground beef lying under pastry sheets and bundled with sweet caramelized scallions. That this gets deep-fried makes it one of the best meat pies in the galaxy.
The rest of the menu, however, seems padded with underwhelming preserved veggies as sides. Other noodles are a play on the signature dish: decent wok-fried beef noodles for those whose comfort zone revolves around chow fun and lo mein takeout and a cold beef noodle that reminds one of a pasta salad.
But in here, if you don’t order the signature hand-pulled noodle soup, the server might look at you funny. It’s the telos of this place. And in any event, that bowl makes for a helluva hangover cure.
Núodle: | 14603 N.E. 20th St. Suite #6, Bellevue; 425-395-9999; nuodle.us; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily
Highly recommended for the hand-pulled beef noodle soup, beef pastry and pork pot stickers.
Reservations not taken, but wait is short on weekdays. On weekends the wait is around 30 minutes or less during brunch time.
Prices: $ (appetizers $1.99-$8.99; beef noodles $11.99)
Noise level ranges from tranquil on weekdays to moderate during the busy weekend brunch hour; background music of Mandarin and K-Pop
Service is fast and efficient for beef noodles and for the preserved veggie sides
Drinks: no alcohol; soda, tea, soy milk and juice
Access: no obstacles, unisex restrooms, accessible, no stairs