THE MOST COMMON apology I hear for the Portland suburbs is "well, they do have better Asian food." Not so long ago, if your cravings skewed to the Far East and you didn't want to drive past I-205 or fight traffic on the 26, you could choose between Thai or pho (and hey, you could do worse). But the good Korean and Chinese food was most certainly out of the way. Gradually, though, it seems the talent is moving toward city center.
Last year, Lucky Strike—the Szechuan standby out at SE 122nd and Powell—picked up shop and moved into the Hawthorne Theatre building. Not far behind, Beaverton's second favorite man on the planet—behind only Phil Knight—Du Kuh Bee's Frank Fong, has left his strip mall in the 'burbs for a little Victorian on NE 8th and Broadway.
Frank's Noodle House will be familiar territory to anyone used to making the pilgrimage out to Fong's old place. The menu features a lot of Du Kuh Bee's standouts—sautéed baby bok choy, jellyfish salad, Korean BBQ—but most importantly, those blessed noodles. If you follow Portland's food scene at all, you've surely heard people oohing and ahhing over Frank's hand-pulled creations... but screw it, I'm going to do it anyway.
The noodles are a bit smaller than typical udon, but in the same ballpark. They're chewy, but if you're not used to that style, don't let it throw you—think of it as an extra fraction of a second to savor them. Too often, noodles are a vehicle for whatever you're serving them with—you push them aside digging for a last piece of chicken. Not so here. The texture and flavor of the noodles themselves is something to behold.
My favorites are the beef and squid, but you can also choose vegetable, pork, chicken, or shrimp, or take any of the above—minus pork—in a noodle soup. Sautéed onions, peppers, and cabbage complement the noodles, all of it doused in Korean chile sauce (if you like your food at all spicy, opt for a three or a four).
While I'd never advise forgoing the noodles, if you're not alone, it's worth ordering family style to try out a few other dishes. The dumplings ($4.25) are moist and bold, wrapped with handmade dough and stuffed with pork and leeks. I'm a sucker for short ribs, and Frank's didn't disappoint. The meat was a little tougher than I would prefer, but they tasted pretty outstanding—the umami flavoring is overpowered a bit by the piles of sautéed onions, but it's a happy, if off-balanced, marriage.
On the vegetarian side, I'm not sure you can miss. The vegetarian house noodles are a must, but the aforementioned bok choy, while simple, is as good as I've ever had. My date ordered string beans with mushrooms, and it was similarly satisfying—the beans were just crisp enough, and well seasoned without drowning out the natural flavor.
Prices are modest—nothing above $12.95 with plenty of options in the $8-10 range.
I feel like a Yankees fan cheering for these heavy-hitters to leave their smaller markets in favor of the powerhouse inner-Eastside restaurant scene—but hey, Syun Izakaya, I hear the old Fin space is opening up on SE Hawthorne...