I decided to go on a quest to find the best dan dan noodles in New York City. After scouring food forums and tweeting back and forth with a couple of Chinese food veterans, my choices were narrowed down to four contestants: Hot Kitchen (Second Avenue near 6th Street), Grand Sichuan (St. Marks near Third Avenue), Szechuan Gourmet (39th Street near Sixth Avenue), and Wu Liang Ye (48th Street near Sixth Avenue).
Originally from Sichuan, China, dan dan noodles are dry noodles with a chile oil, ground pork, and scallion sauce topped with mustard stems. Some sauces include a hint of peanut. Although real Sichuan fare is known to be absolutely unbearable to the unaccustomed palate, the following renditions of dan dan noodles are all mild in comparison. The noodles are commonly served as an appetizer in restaurants, but if you ask me, the serving size is more than enough to be a full meal.
After a taste test of all four noodle variations, I came up with the following verdict:
4. Grand Sichuan
My least favorite of the batch. I’m actually going to say that I’ll probably never order dan dan noodles from this place again. Granted the dish had a generous amount of greens, but the sauce was so overwhelming, there was a garlic stench in my mouth for a good two days. The noodles were a bit soggy, which made the too-much-sauce problem even worse. The ground pork was mediocre at best, and after a while, I gave up on trying to find the subtleties in the flavors. There were some peanut bits in there, but the flavors just did not show up.
And there was a soup’s worth of sauce left.
3. Hot Kitchen
Good. The sauce lacks the peppercorn and chile oil typical of the dish, but the ratio of sauce and noodles worked out perfectly. The dan dan noodles at Hot Kitchen are enough to satisfy a noodle craving, but for people looking for that extra burst of flavor and the authentic Sichuan element of spice . . . this version does not have what it takes.
2. Szechuan Gourmet
This is the only one of the four that had a obvious amount of chile oil. Points for authenticity. In fact, it came absolutely drenched in it. Unfortunately, the texture was reminiscent of American-Chinese chow mein, but the sauce (spicy with a hint of sour) was able to compensate. There’s not much ground pork in Szechuan Gourmet’s version compared to how much noodles are actually provided, but the overall dish does leave a subtle but nutty aftertaste.
And the winner is . . .
1. Wu Liang Ye
It’s the most expensive of the group but by far the best. The chefs at Wu Liang Ye get it right. The texture of the meat is the most sophisticated–finely ground and mixed in with a really pungent sauce. Whereas all the other dishes lost points for their lackluster noodle texture, Wu Liang Ye’s noodles were amazing. The firmness of the noodles worked well with the sauce, which was spicy with a unexpected hint of sweet.