You can experience Chinese boiled dumplings and xiaolongbao, Just like most diners do at Yu Noodles, for a crazy, jumpscare explosion of flavors, textures and contrasts. As a metaphor for something bigger and cosmic than Shanghai-style dumplings.
Lou is an artist based in San Francisco. She’s something of an expert on dumplings, not only designing the underlying imagery for dumpling emojis across her social landscape, but also researching the history of the dough bundle. The Chinese word “hundun” (which can represent “primordial chaos” or a mythical creature that looks like a plump dumpling with wings and legs) and various fillings commonly known as “hundun” She may not be the first to draw a linguistic parallel between the packaging of Wonton. But she was the first to express the connection in a way that spoke to me like poetry.
“Every bite opens up a new universe, metaphorically speaking,” Lou once said.
I found out about Lu’s work while searching for Yu Noodles, three establishments that specialize in Chinese street food, with a focus on stores in Chongqing, a sprawling municipality in southwestern China. . As you may know, Yu is the official abbreviation for Chongqing.
I felt I couldn’t ignore the synchronicity between Lu’s research and the many opportunities to open up new universes with the steamed buns, pan-fried dumplings, and spicy wontons I ate at Yumen. I remembered that it is an abstract pursuit, but deepened by organs known for more abstract thought. It fills me with joy that wontons alone can’t compete that someone somewhere had the imagination to draw the line between the big bang and the explosion of steamed dumplings.
Yu Noodles is also like an expanding universe. His two principals, Andy Qiu and Tony Cai, opened their first store in Rockville in 2018. Since then, it has opened its first stores in Fairfax and Herndon, with perhaps 10 more in the future.
At a time when the hospitality job market is tighter than Questlove’s snare drum, how can a place devoted to homemade noodles, dumplings and wontons find enough talent to fill those kitchens? You might wonder. The answer lies in automation, with machines punching out long, delicate noodles, and even freshly made, fully-constituted soup dumplings, each waiting to explode into a new galaxy. (Note that the smaller Rockville location does not serve soup dumplings.)
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The gods in the shape of Yu Noodles are apparently machines.
However, the god who develops the taste of yumen is human itself. Former chef and partner at Bob’s 88 Shabu Shabu in Rockville (where he died, way Too young), Cai studied at a culinary school in Chongqing, and he and Qiu worked on opening the first tangmen restaurant. Cai is a master of layering flavors, often using it to emphasize rather than define dishes with the spicy, numbing sensations that characterize Sichuan cuisine.
Tsai’s style is perhaps best experienced in his Ibin Spicy Dried Noodles. This is a bowl that combines ground beef and ground pork with the thinnest of chili oil, shiny, chewy wheat noodles. The spicy anesthesia of mala oil is present and described, but occupies a kind of middle ground, surrounded by sesame paste and homemade soy sauce, and nuts and umami are treated equally in this wonderful dish.
The chef uses many of the same flavors in his Chongqing noodles, but adjusts the proportions to give chili oil room to roam, perfect for those seeking heat even on dog days in summer. The beauty of the menu is in its diversity. These include flounder with sour pickled cabbage, hot and sour hoon with five different spices, and the best sesame nuttiness of Yu Village Kool Noodles. Food served perfectly cold.
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Despite its dedication to Chongqing, Yu Noodles has a wandering eye, as evidenced by its small line of Cai soup dumplings that have roots in Shanghainese cuisine. The chef infuses peppercorn spicy soup dumplings with a little Sichuan delicacy. The salmon-colored crust is due to the carrot juice in the dough. If you break through the gyoza membrane, the heat will be difficult to transmit, and once it reaches the gyoza, it will cling to your body like moisture.
Cai offers an extensive menu of snacks and appetizers. I have yet to come across a dish that I would never order again. The first on par is the chive and pork dumpling skillet, whose aromas, apologetically, lean towards the onion side of the spectrum. But I also marveled at shumai, a dim sum staple stuffed with chewy sticky rice rather than pork and shrimp. And I can’t remember when I had better scallion pancakes, crispy and layered.
For those who don’t like noodles, I would recommend the slightly misleading description of chicken legs served over rice. Remove the dark meat marinated in oyster sauce, soy sauce and black pepper before roasting, then serve with a poached egg and layer over rice. The dish screams for acid, but soon finds that acid is already provided, with lightly pickled vegetables buried in the grains.
The only dish I wouldn’t recommend is the potato tower. The second time I tried to order, the server tried to stop me to make sure it was as bland as the first. He said I didn’t like it. We called it children’s food. I asked Qiu about this later. His reaction surprised me.
“Even kids don’t like it,” he said.
Owners who are honest enough to throw away their own food. Talk about what blew my mind.
Note: This article has been updated to add that the Rockville location does not serve boiled dumplings.
368 Elden St., Herndon, VA, 703-480-0326, yunoodlesherndon.com. 11217-C Lee Hwy., Fairfax, Virginia, 703-877-0818, yunoodlefairfax.com. 9 Dawson Ave., Rockville, MD, 301-978-7693, yunoodlesrockville.com.
time: Daily from 11am to 8:30pm at all three locations.
Nearest Metro: Only the Maryland location has a nearby subway station, Rockville, about half a mile from the restaurant.
price: All items on the menu from $2 to $13.