My absolute favorite dish to eat is the Taiwanese version of beef noodle soup. It’s a complex, yet subtle dish that combines three basic taste groups together – salty, sweet and sour. With large chunks of beef paired with chewy noodles and sour pickled vegetables, it’s a gastronomic treat that will make believers out of anyone.
For people living in the San Francisco bay area, beef noodle soup is a religion, not a meal. With its large asian population from mainland China and Taiwan, San Francisco can arguably, serve as the beef noodle soup capital of the US. The challenge then becomes, “where do you find the best beef noodle soup in the bay are?” Well, that’s what we here at TripQue is going to find out in this food challenge blog post.
For this food challenge, TripQue’s criteria is simple. I limited the sample size to only restaurants that serve primarily the Taiwanese version of beef noodle soup. That means, thick cut noodles with chunks(not slices) of beef, pickled vegetables and a beef broth that is both fragrant and full bodied. I’m sure there are readers out there that will argue for the Chinese and/or Shanghai version as being vastly superior. However, for the purpose of this challenge and my ever expanding waistline, I’m sticking with eating only the Taiwanese variation known as 紅燒牛肉麵 or red cooked beef noodle soup.
4. Mama Chef
5075 Stevens Creek Blvd #10
Santa Clara, CA 95051
Price $7.50 (Large)
Of all the places we reviewed, Mama Chef was probably the hardest one to find. Although its listed address is on Steven Creek Boulevard, the store front is actually facing Cabot Avenue. Take note that the parking lot is ridiculously small and currently the restaurant seats only about 54 people, so it can get packed. Additionally, Mama Chef stays true to it’s tax-evading, Chinese roots by only taking cash. The restaurant has a really robust menu that spans Taiwanese favorites such as stinky tofu, meatball and fried intestines. If you are in the mood for authentic tasting Taiwanese food situated in an authentic Taiwanese ambiance(meaning there is no decor,whatsoever to speak of) then Mama Chef is the place to go.
At a glance, Mama Chef’s version passes the eyeball test. Large chunks of lean meat that is very very tender and are thicker than any of the meats at the other four places that TripQue reviewed. The thick cut noodles were the most unique aspect of Mama Chef. The noodle was very chewy but also aerated enough so that it was able to pick up the beef broth so that every bite was filled with beef broth goodness. Pro tip: Add in the picked vegetables to add a hint of sweetness to the dish. Just note, a large order does not necessarily mean more meat. In fact, it means that you are getting double the amount of noodles whereas the amount of meat stays the same. As a pro tip, ask for a side of pickled vegetables. By adding it into the soup broth, you’ll add in a subtle sweet taste that adds another layer to the flavor profile.
3. Liang’s Village Cuisine
19772 Stevens Creek Blvd
Cupertino, CA 95014
Chances are, if you lived in the south bay you have probably been to Liang’s Village Cuisine/Kitchen at one time or another. The restaurant has a couple locations in both Northern California and Southern California, however, at the time of this writing, many of the locations are actually closed. To the best of my knowledge, the Cupertino branch may be the last one standing. Located in a shopping plaza that has ample parking, Liang’s is an institution that welcomes all types of Chinese people and uniting them under the banner of great food. The restaurant is famous for it’s beef wraps and if you have the stomach, I highly recommend getting those wraps as an appetizer.
Frankly speaking, when it comes to beef noodle soup, Liang’s isn’t known for it. Despite the warnings from my Taiwanese friends, I wanted to try for myself to see what Liang’s had to offer. I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised. By far, Liang’s was the most expensive but also, it’s portion was the largest. The soup broth is sweeter because, unlike other restaurants, the sour cabbage is already added in. This gives the soup a really interesting and almost floral flavor that reminded me a bit of how Thai food mixed spicy, salty and sweet into the same dish. The noodles were “knife-cut” so they were very thick but also had nice consistency. In comparison to the other places, although it’s a bit oilier in comparison, the generous portions of vegetables, beef and tendon warrants it the 3rd best restaurant on TripQue’s list.
2. Fusion House
46228 Warm Springs Blvd Suite #452
Fremont, CA 94539
With such a nondescript name such as Fusion House, it is only fitting that the restaurant is tucked away in a boring Asian strip mall that includes a Ramen shop and a Marina Supermarket. Unlike the restaurants in TripQue’s burger joints in LA tour, Fusion House doesn’t have much of a history. Fusion House is simply a solid Taiwanese restaurant that seems to be much cleaner than most, while serving up an array of comfort foods that’s sure to satisfy discerning eaters. Being the first stop on this tour, our stomachs were empty, our spirits were high and we ordered more than we could eat.
The best part of Fusion House’s version is that the noodle soup was not overly salty. I’ve eaten variations in which the beef broth contained enough salt to give you an immediate hangover. Thankfully, the chefs here have taken the time to flavor the broth just right so that it adds to the noodle soup and doesn’t overpower the other ingredients. Fusion House is definitely generous in the amount of beef that is given along with the ample amount of vegetables. The only downside to the entire experience is that the soup could have used a bit more spiciness to it. However, that can be rectified by adding in dollops of red pepper sauce to give it an extra oomph. With a price of $7.75 per bowl, overall, a very solid number 2 on our list.
1. Mama Chen’s Kitchen
19052 Stevens Creek Blvd
Cupertino, CA 95014
At first glance, the pristine white interior makes you think this is some high-end asian fusion restaurant that is situated in the wrong shopping plaza. Surrounded by other Chinese restaurants and a name that screams “unoriginal,” no one would have thought that Mama Chen’s Kitchen would be number 1 on our list. Mama Chen is so clean and the decor is so modern, you almost assumed you are going to get a crappy meal. Mama Chen takes credit card and the restaurant has ample seating. Menu is packed with not only Taiwanese dishes, but also other Chinese favorites.
Wow! Mama Chen deserves the top spot for its near perfect execution of beef noodle soup. The noodles are traditional Taiwanese, thick cut, noodles. The broth is naturally savory and sweet, giving it a beautiful contrast that will leave your taste buds tingling. While not overly generous with the beef, you won’t feel as if you are short changed by the protein amount. As for the beef, Mama Chen gives you a terrific mix of both lean meat and cartilage bits, but overall, its very tender and chewy. Most importantly, the dish was not overly salty or sweet. Out of all of the restaurants, Mama Chen is by far the best beef noodle soup in the San Francisco bay area.
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