We squeezed into the bar at Ippudo and made our way to the hostess. She didn't have very happy news: "There'll be a table available in 2 hours". A cold Sunday evening is not, as it turns out, a sensible time to head to one of the city's most popular ramen spots. We ventured back out into the cold. Let's try Momofuku. It's just round the corner. They had slightly happier news: "There'll be a table available in 1 and a half hours". My tummy was rumbling and spending 90 minutes in the small entrance way, watching everyone else dig into their noodles and hirata buns through the glass, was not going to be my favourite way to spend a Sunday evening. So we walked a little further until we got to Xi'an Famous Foods where the queue was a matter of minutes, and there were a couple of free stools we could perch on in the back corner.
The tiny take-out restaurant has a small counter running round the outside from which lots of hungry people race through generous plates of noodles. The
queue line to order runs through the middle of the squashed space, and the menu is a mosaic of photos accompanied by a few brief words and some numbers tacked up on the wall. We peered over people's shoulders to get a glimpse of what they were eating and based our choices on our eyes and noses.
Squeezed into the corner (I was essentially sitting in the drinks fridge), we sipped on iced teas until our numbers were called and we jumped up, as if we'd just won a round of bingo, to go and collect our steaming hot noodles.
Once we'd squeezed on to our section of counter space and had snapped a few photographs, I removed my glasses, us girls tied up our hair, we all picked up our chopsticks, and got stuck in to this serious slurping business.
We'd ordered spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles, one in and one out of soup, mount qi pork hand-ripped noodles in soup, spicy cucumber salad, and spicy and sour lamb dumplings. Our lips were soon on fire but we couldn't stop eating: the handmade noodles are stretchy and chewy without being stodgy and dense; the broth is spicy and packed full with different spices and flavours which all come together to form an unbelievably more-ish meal. But the highlight was the cucumber salad. The crunchy, bright cucumber is coated in sesame, chilli, soy sauce and garlic: I need to recreate this at home. Immediately.
We eventually surrendered our stools to some hungry people hovering near by and strolled round the corner to Milk Bar for a cereal milk soft-serve to cool our burning lips. There is no better way to end a Sunday.
Xi'an Famous Foods, 81 St. Mark's Place, Manhattan, NY 10003