REDMOND — There is very little better on a frigid day than a steaming bowl of noodle soup twice the size of your face.
That’s what brought me to Sichuanese eatery Nine Way, in Redmond — and kept me coming back, three more times in the following three weeks.
At Nine Way, there are soups for all occasions. The people I have taken here can attest that these soups have the power to soothe all manner of upset, from head colds to broken hearts.
The soups, though — as befit the stars of the show at this hole-in-the-wall eatery, sharing strip-mall space with a vape store and a questionably-licensed massage parlor — arrive last.
What comes first is a glass of hot water.
Uninitiated eaters, do not send this hot water back! Its job is a crucial one: Like calisthenics for your palate, it eases mouth and innards into the spicy reality of much of what comes next. (Also, it’s very pleasant.)
If there’s an opportunity to eat any kind of filling wrapped in dough, I’m certain to take it. At Nine Way, there are four varieties of wonton ($8.99) as well as Sichuanese-style pork dumplings ($9.99) from which to pick.
That brings me to my next piece of advice: Come hungry and bring friends. (Notably, there are no two-person tables at Nine Way.) The portions are generous, and you’ll want to try some of everything.
The menu is helpfully emoji-notated with chili peppers and balls of fire. Chili peppers stand for “spicy”; balls of fire stand for what the restaurant calls “numbing” — Sichuanese cuisine’s characteristic lip-tingling aftereffect, a byproduct of the rattan pepper. There are also peanut emojis for the allergic, leaf emojis that signify vegan dishes and animal emojis denoting meats: cow, pig or chicken. (Cute!)
My first visit to Nine Way, I went for the dumplings (two chilies) and was glad I did. Doused in sweet-tingly chili oil and sesame seeds, the dumplings felt like the perfect step up into spiciness. I used the last dumpling as a mop to sponge the dregs of chili oil from the bowl.
On a subsequent visit, trying to shed a cold and operating under the working hypothesis that more spicy equals more better, I ordered wontons with rattan pepper (two chilies, two balls of fire), served in a clear broth bedecked with sliced chili peppers. My first bite devolved into embarrassing coughs and sputters. Eaters, do yourselves a favor: Walk before you run. Sip some broth before gulping a whole wonton.
Next out of the kitchen was the Nine Way Noodle ($9.99; two chilies). Its presentation was not an endorsement. My eating partner and I looked apprehensively at the monochrome mound of egg noodles covered in ground pork. Once tasted, though, we found it hard to stop slurping the lightly numbing, sweet-savory noodles. I kept returning to it between bites of other dishes, and liked it so much I felt almost guilty ordering something so simply prepared on subsequent visits, as if I were giving short shrift to the rest of the menu.
A cucumber salad ($3.99) ordered as a palate-cleanser arrived gleaming with salt and piled with a jewel-like mound of minced garlic. Waiting for the soup to make its entrance, we nibbled the cucumbers and pig ears sliced translucently thin and dressed in chili oil ($4.99; two chilies). Each bite was a gratifying, tendony snap.
At last, out came the soup.
That first visit, I ordered what a server said is the restaurant’s most popular dish: braised beef noodle soup ($11.99; one chili). The bowl, crowned in baby bok choy, arrived wreathed in anise-scented steam. After the succession of well-spiced appetizers, though, the soup felt, alas, bland.
Subsequently, I sprung for zestier fare — specifically, mao cai, the restaurant’s make-your-own personal hot pot (starting at $16.50). Fans of the Chinatown International District’s King Noodle will be familiar with the concept: Choose a soup base (dry spicy, sour and spicy, or má là — “numb-spicy”), then add as many toppings as you’d like.
Nine Way offers three spiciness levels for mao cai: five, six or seven chilies. Eaters who have chosen the má là base are also asked to choose their numbing level: one (less numbing) or three (regular) balls of fire.
Being perhaps a weaker-tongued type than much of Nine Way’s clientele, I opted for five chilies and only one ball of fire on my soup, then stuffed it full of kelp knots, sliced lotus, tofu, enoki mushrooms and broccoli.
Eaters, it was peppery bliss.
An added bonus: A short trek across the parking lot from Nine Way is Hong Kong-style dessert shop Hui Lau Shan. After a hearty portion of be-chili’ed soup, fiery tongues find some reprieve on one of Hui Lau Shan’s excellent gummy fruit ices.
Nine Way 玖味: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; 14808 N.E. 24th St., Redmond; 425-643-8000, nine-way.business.site