I was extremely curious when I heard that one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Houston, Sandong Noodle House, recently opened a Plano outpost. My curiosity turned into delight when I discovered the rumors were, indeed, true.
Sandong is famed in Houston for its mind-blowing Northern Chinese comfort food (via Taiwanese owners) served in a simple, laid-back setting. The Houston restaurant is small but clean, with just about the right amount of seating. (Although, rush hours always have a queue of the hungry and the envious.)
Although there are the obvious similarities between both the Plano and Houston locations -- i.e. the food -- notable differences exist. Most obvious is that the Plano location is simply called Noodle House. This is unfortunate. How are fans of the original supposed to know that the restaurant is an offspring of its popular parent? Had it not been for some Internet snooping, I would have never had an inkling. Secondly, Sandong is tucked amongst the incredibly busy culinary corner of Bellaire Boulevard and Beltway 8 in west Houston.
Meanwhile, even though Noodle House has two entrances, one could easily sneeze and miss the restaurant. Noodle House is hidden in the May Hua supermarket shopping center on the corner of Coit Road and Park Boulevard. Despite having been open for a few months, the restaurant has yet to erect a permanent sign. Lastly, the space feels less like a quaint Chinese restaurant and more like an empty warehouse or dining hall. It's really bizarre. The space is wide and open with high ceilings, but tables and seats occupy only half the room.
Now, to the similarities...the food is freaking AWESOME. Expletives awesome. Awesome like, Jeng Chi might need to move over because there's a new, younger, hotter, sluttier dumpling house in town. Awesome like, my damned diet took a straight-to-hell nosedive that day, OK? Son of a bitch.
Food is ordered at the counter via a helpful picture menu. Along with menu items like fried pork chops and rice (a Taiwanese representative), beef noodle soup, dumplings, and potstickers that have to be ordered through the kitchen, there are ready-to-serve and packaged various Chinese wheat buns. San Dong is well known for its "everything" Chinese whole-wheat buns, which are specked with black sesame seeds, nuts and dried fruits. The restaurant offers mini-bun samples at the counter for those who need persuading. My personal favorites, however, are the vegetarian buns, stuffed with leeks, scrambled eggs and bean thread. These surprisingly light, yet filling, buns are steamed then pan fried to a golden crisp.
The restaurant is pretty much DIY, with a sauce station for guests and shelves in the dining room lined with chopsticks, spoons, cups and bowls.
So what does a petite Asian girl order on a lunch date all by her lonesome? Answer: a six-pack box of veggie buns, pork and leek potstickers, pork and cabbage dumplings and a large bowl of beef noodle soup. I ate it all.
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Altogether, the meal came to $30, cash money. Noodle House subscribes to the incredibly annoying Asian restaurant trend of being a cash-only establishment. I probably would have ordered more, but I only had the $30 on me. While the total surprised me as being a bit higher than I expected, the portions are very generous at Noodle House.
As for the rundown on each dish, while each entrée was drool-worthy, the boiled pork and cabbage dumplings were my favorite. The dumpling filling was flavorful, plump and juicy. The dumplings were like tiny explosions of flavor. Following in a close second were the potstickers. The leeks were a welcome bright component to the savory pork and browned dumpling skin. Compared with the dumplings and potstickers, the beef noodle soup was the least spectacular. While the hearty thick wheat noodles paired well with the spiciness of the broth, the beef was tough and very difficult to chew. It's a popular menu item for the restaurant, though, and is worth the try for fans of Bun Bo Hue or any other spicy beef soups.
Finally, I have a quick, albeit embarrassing, note about the dumpling skins. I harp quite a bit about my annoyance with packaged dumpling/wonton skins. Real dumplings should always be made with homemade wrappings, but I have no idea whether Noodle House's dumplings are made with homemade or prepackaged skins. There's something about the texture of the skins, the thinness of them, that resembles a packaged skin, but the flour-like nuttiness leans towards a homemade wrapping. I would have asked, but I was too busy gorging myself. My point is this: When it comes to Noodle House, it really doesn't matter. Keep an eye out for this place, and approach with an empty belly. In the meantime, with food this good, Noodle House really ought to invest in a permanent sign for the restaurant.
Noodle House 3921 W Park Blvd, Suite Y, Plano Closed Mondays