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Guide to Asian Noodle Soups: 8 Must-Try Options

By Jenny Miller
November 16, 2013

Almost every culture has some form of steaming broth swimming with noodles - a comforting, nutritious and cheap way to fill up. In many Asian countries, these soups are daily staples, apt to be slurped any time of day (pho for breakfast? That's how it's done in Vietnam). With winter coming on, it's a good time to revisit this world of warming noodle soups. From current-darling ramen to lesser-known khao soi, here are some of our favorite Asian-leaning slurps to be found across the country.

  • Pho

    Chicken noodle got a run for its money as Americans discovered the Vietnamese beef noodle soup known as pho - a comfort food that, let's face it, out-comforts any homegrown effort. No surprise that these days everyone seems to have a favorite pho joint; if it happens to deliver, you'll never ail again. At Houston's Pho Binh Trailer (the original location of what's now a mini-chain) - which has the Texas-funky charm of, well, actually being housed in a mobile-building-type trailer - connoisseurs praise the freshness of every ingredient here, from pungent herbs to tender beef. Since pho is traditionally a breakfast food, go early on weekends, else the place is apt to sell out.

  • Khao Soi

    The Burmese-influenced Northern Thai specialty khao soi is a newcomer to these shores, but those who've tried it tend to leave the table wanting more. Somewhere between a soup and a curry, khao soi features springy, linguine-width egg noodles in a coconut-curry "broth" with chunks of chicken and - absolutely key - pickled mustard greens, diced raw onions or shallots, and roasted chiles to sprinkle on top. We've tried a few versions stateside, but the one at Pok Pok (served at the Portland and New York locations) is the most faithful to the bowls we tried in Chiang Mai: it's comforting, complex and completely addictive.

  • Mohinga

    Myanmar (Burma) is a diverse country with many different ethnic groups, but one dish that unites just about everyone is mohinga. Typically eaten for breakfast, the fish soup features a chickpea-flour-thickened broth with thin rice noodles and topped with garnishes including cilantro, boiled egg or pieces of fried gourd to add texture. San Francisco is your best bet for mohinga in the U.S. Try it at Mandalay, where it's called "catfish chowder" (and if you chicken out on the fishiness, there's a similar version made with poultry - another popular Burmese staple).

  • Taiwanese Niu Rou Mien

    In Taiwan (and parts of China), the go-to noodle soup is a simple and hearty beef-based affair: soothing garlic- and star-anise-flavored bovine broth with chunks of stewed meat, usually wheat noodles and bok choy. For a stateside fix, head to Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle, an outlet of a popular Taiwanese mini-chain, in Irvine, CA. Chef Hung has won many accolades for his soup at the annual Taipei International Taiwanese Beef Noodle Festival - and the menu reflects this, with three different "Champion" bowls of soup: shank, brisket and braised beef with tomato, plus several other varieties.

  • Ramen

    If you haven't been living under a chopstick-holder rock, you've probably noticed we're in the midst of a ramen boom. The denizens of Austin can now enjoy a top-notch bowl at Ramen Tatsu-Ya, and New York foodsters are hungrily awaiting the opening of Tokyo export Ivan Ramen. In the meantime, locals and visitors can check out Totto Ramen in New York. The "insanely delicious" soups inspire lines of eager customers to queue daily down the block for the authentically Japanese-style 20-seater (thankfully, a brand-new second location down the block might help alleviate the waits a bit). And its rich tori paitan broth is chicken-based, setting it apart from the dominant tonkatsu (fatty pork broth) slingers at other popular ramen-yas.

  • Soba

    If the salt- and flavor-bomb that is a bowl of ramen amps tastes up to 11, soba noodles keep it simmering on the below-five side of the spectrum, challenging your addled tastebuds to concentrate in order to appreciate the delicate appeal. This exercise is worth it at Cocoron in New York, where the "amazingly delicious" buckwheat strands are nutty and delicately springy. While the very-Japanese operation closed its original location - a closet-sized charmer on Delancey street - the larger Kenmare location offers the same noodles in soup or dipping styles. Go at lunch to get an order of the yuba soba before it sells out - the housemade tofu skin is chewy and lightly sweet, another delicate taste you'll want to take the time to savor.

  • Udon

    The third entrant in the Japanese noodle-soup trifecta is arguably the most humble (and also the most underappreciated). The slippery, fat, white noodles are often allowed to overcook, resigning them to unappealing gumminess. But not so at LA's Marugame Monzo, where you can watch the dough get slapped around and sliced in choreographed fashion before diving into your own bowl of noodles. There are some unorthodox options here (udon gratin, anyone?), but we say keep it simple - with a chicken tempura or seaweed option, perhaps - and let the udon-y flavor come forth (because, c'mon, have you ever really appreciated it before?).

  • Naengmyeon

    Okay, this Korean soup is not exactly warming - in fact, it's freezing cold! But even in winter, many find its icy charms to be extremely refreshing after a Korean barbecue feed - it's often consumed at the end of such a meal to refresh the constitution. Naengmyeon, with a consomme-style beef broth and usually buckwheat noodles, is also great on sweltering summer days when nothing else seems to offer relief. Either way, if you're going to go cold, go really cold by spooning up the soup from a bowl formed out of ice. This is how it's done at the very worth-the-LIRR-ride Tong Sam Gyup Goo Ee in Flushing, Queens. After you've stuffed yourself silly with the restaurant's excellent pork barbecue, you somehow will find room for some of this - and feel a little less uncomfortably full after.

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