Beef noodle soup （牛肉麵） is something that inspires worship of mythical proportions. On the streets of Taiwan, you can find plenty of beef noodle soup shops touting that they've been in business since the dawn of time, or that their soup contains SUPER SEKRIT FAMILY RECIPE that can transport you through a fantasy land of amazingly rich flavors and do your taxes for you. It's certainly a market filled with passion, bombast, and really good eats.
Here in the Bay Area, though, things are a lot more subdued. People of discerning taste for noodles now tend to pay more attention to ramen, and the heated passion that used to be associated with beef noodle soup has now faded into historical oddity. Thank God, then, that there exist stores like ASJ Restaurant that are still cranking out beef noodle soups, one delicious bowl at a time.
It's a very simple dish, really. It's -- yes! -- beef, noodle, and soup. Usually you'll get a few leafs of vegetables, and sometimes carrots or daikon. But the magic, as you can expect, comes from the soup and the noodle. First, the flavor of the soup must be complex but not muddled, savory but not salty, rich but not greasy, and spicy but not burning. Beef noodle shops reuse beef stock over the years so that their soup gains complexity with each use -- which is why shops that have been in business for decades tend to have the edge in flavor. The noodle, of course, needs to be very Q (or, in non-Taiwan terms, al dente), and comes in thick or thin varieties.
ASJ's soup pretty much passed every test we could think of. The soup was very good at just the perfect amount of spiciness, and I finished drinking the entire bowl without feeling that it's too oily or salty. Wei got the thin noodles, which were softer and not quite as Q as I'd like, though he enjoyed it a lot. I got the thick noodles, which I found to be a bit too doughy and tough, but my girlfriend Mel found it to be just fine (of course -- she's from Beijing! She'd be happy just biting into a ball of dough). Mel was also very impressed by the beef slices, which contained some tendons and were very tender, but I thought they were a little bland. Overall, though, very excellent beef noodle soup.
We also ordered their potstickers （鍋貼）. I was very excited about them because they were the open-ended kind -- a rare find in the Bay Area -- but they turned out to be pretty mediocre.
We also got their spicy wontons （紅油炒手）, which was awful -- the wontons were tiny, and the sauce is some weird concoction that's a little spicy, a little peppery, a little sweet, and very weird.
Overall, I was very happy with ASJ. Sure, its potstickers and wontons did not impress, but the beef noodle soup is killer, and surely worth a trip by itself.
Beef noodle soup -- 4.5/5 (very impressive!)
Potstickers -- 3/5 (promising, but ultimately uninspiring)
Spicy wontons -- 1/5 (err, don't get this)
1698 Hostetter Rd # D
San Jose, CA 95131
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