For the last couple of years, the explosion of exciting modern Chinese restaurants in New York City has been quite breath-taking. Was there a single restaurant that was instrumental in this development? Of course there is Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese Food that made Sichuan cuisine the food that cool kids in the city eat (although the words have been that the restaurant, which also recently opened up a new location in Bushwick, hasn’t had quite the same magic as it did when it opened). Among the newcomers that opened in the last two years or so, I venture to say that Hao Noodle is the trailblazer that gave a lot of confidence to other younger, enterprising Chinese chefs to come up with their unique philosophy and approach to the infinitely diverse cuisine of the country. While Hao Noodle’s origin traces to a popular chain in the mainland China, I was certainly impressed with the original West Village location’s ability to deliver delicious food in a modern setting with quite stunning décor (modeled after a teahouse). I guess their business model has gained a lot of traction, as a second location in the Meatpacking neighborhood (not sure why they call it the Chelsea branch as it is right on the western side of 14th street) opened last year. I was recently looking for a place to have a casual dinner with my wife Jun and another couple (the husband is a professional chef), and I figured Hao Noodle Chelsea is a safe place to go out. What I didn’t realize is how much improvement this new location has shown since our last visit to the West Village location in 2016.
While Jun and I very much enjoyed our experience at Hao Noodle WV, last time I settled on the KenScale score of 8.0 (see my previous review here https://kenscale.com/2016/09/13/hao-noodle-and-tea-by-madam-zhus-kitchen/), largely because I thought some dishes lacked the kind of intensity and focus I was looking for. This time, however, the dining experience was much better. Perhaps it might be because we were more eager to order dishes on the spicy side which often paid off quite handsomely. At Hao Noodle WV, one of our favorite dishes was the soft Szechuan mung bean jelly in chili sauce, and everyone enjoyed the same mung bean jelly with enthusiasm for its powerful flavor. Next to the mung bean jelly, wood ear mushrooms in Chinese vinegar offered a nice contrast in flavor with its citrusy kick. I remember the le shan chicken to come in chunks of meat at the West Village location; here, it came out shredded which I thought somewhat undermined the chicken’s texture and some people in our party, including Jun, thought the seasoning from Szechuan peppercorn and chili oil was a bit too aggressive. The biggest difference I noticed between the two Hao Noodle locations was that the Chelsea branch has various skewer options that I didn’t see in West Village; by all means order a couple. We happened to choose very wisely, with very delicious lamb with cumin as well as spicy squid that, in Jun’s words, would be perfect food to complement alcohol beverages.
The restaurant being a noodle shop, we of course had to order a few noodle dishes. Given the logistical difficulty with sharing the noodles, we decided to order one bowl per couple. Jun and I ended up with Chongqing hotpot beef noodle soup. The server initially warned us that the broth can be insanely spicy but that didn’t dissuade both of us spicy food aficionados from ordering it anyway and the broth wasn’t that spicy after all. Instead, the deeply aromatic soup was a perfect antidote to a really chilly winter night and we both immensely enjoyed it with the noodle and beef inside. If you have a room for dessert, go ahead and order a few for sharing as well. While the fried egg-coated rice cake with soybean powder and brown sugar struck us with too much resemblance with Korean rice cake called injeolmi, it was still delicious, and the caramel soy milk pudding with walnuts and black sesame ice cream is not to be missed as well. At the end of the meal, our chef friend exclaimed “This place deserves a 9.0 KenScale!”
Getting a reservation at Hao Noodle isn’t too difficult so if you avoid the peak hours, you shouldn’t have much problem getting seated without reservations. Just like the original West Village location, Hao Noodle Chelsea doesn’t serve alcohol but allows BYOB with no corkage fee, so take full advantage of this opportunity to bring one or two bottles of wine that could work well with spicy Chinese food. I loved the clean and modern décor of Hao Noodle Chelsea just as much as its West Village counterpart. While some staffs had some issues with language difficulties, the head servers are all fluent in English and the service was generally friendly. I’m very close to assigning the KenScale All-Star tag to Hao Noodle. I’ll make a final determination after giving one more visit to either one of the locations at some point in the spring. Stay tuned.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 343 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014
Telephone: (646) 882-0059