A couple of weeks ago, I finally got that opportunity, but was joined only by my mother. In all honesty, I wanted her opinion on how it measured up to the Houston location, as I'd long been telling my parents that the Dallas location had a slight upper hand on its southern counterpart.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so. The restaurants are owned by a pair of brothers who come from a long legacy of restaurateurs from their home country of Taiwan. When I asked Sky Kuo -- the brother who owns the Dallas location -- if this was all in my head, he assured me my opinion wasn't askew with regional bias. After all, both restaurants share the same menu. Both restaurants are modeled in the same fashion. Both restaurants inherited the same years-old recipes. According to Sky, what makes the restaurants so different are the two cities' clientele.
"Houston is faster. People want to come in, eat and go," he posits thoughtfully. "Here, things are slower," he continues, "Customers want to take their time and enjoy the meal. Because of this, we can take the time to focus on quality." This attention to detail is evident in everything from the beautifully crafted dumplings to the complimentary minced garlic and julienned ginger on the condiment counter.
While geography is what affords Noodle House the diligence to detail, there's also the factor of competition. Its effect, however, might not be as obvious as it would seem. San Dong is situated on one of the busiest corners of Houston's Chinatown -- Bellaire and Beltway 8. The heavily trafficked area is teeming with a variety of restaurants. Yet, amidst the endless selection, San Dong is a standout. The restaurant is the favorite go-to for authentic northern Chinese dumplings, wheat buns, noodles and Taiwanese-style rice dishes.
Conversely, what ails Noodle House is its complete lack of surrounding businesses. The restaurant sits in an abandoned shopping center on the corner of Coit Road and West Park. As Sky laments, "People don't even know we're here. They think we're a warehouse."
He has reason to be sore.
When I first visited Noodle House in October, the business had just opened. In the same shopping center, there was May Hua Asian supermarket and signs of several other Asian-run businesses in the beginning stages of development. Upon my return with my mother, almost every other restaurant or shop has been shut down and deserted, including the supermarket.
According to Sky, the owners of the supermarket were the developers of the shopping center. They promised a bustling Asian shopping center experience, complete with a food court, and not very different from varieties seen in Carrollton and east Plano. Just as the center was materializing, however, the developers became embroiled in financial controversy. The supermarket soon shut down and the shopping complex was practically abandoned.
How does this isolation affect Noodle House's business?
The restaurant sees its fair share of loyal customers, consisting mainly of Plano's Chinese community, but for other fans of authentic Chinese cuisine, it seems much more sensible to head toward the more established Richardson Chinatown.
Sky Kuo and his family, however, are as resilient as many Chinese before them, and they continue to try to make it work despite the circumstances. As my mother and I sat eating our lunch fit for a boatload of hungry Vikings, Sky joined us to talk about each dish. Indeed, every single menu item in the restaurant -- noodles, whole-wheat multigrain buns, vegetarian leek buns, dumplings, potstickers -- is made from scratch in the restaurant's kitchen. For the Kuo family, a 65-year tradition allows no other option. Toward the end of our meal, Kuo patriarch revealed himself from the kitchen to ask if we had enjoyed our meal. We did. Very much so.
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Seeing this portly elderly man still toiling away in a kitchen, helping out his son, was incredibly heartwarming, to say the least. This is a hardworking family. The younger Kuo drives from his home in Bedford to the restaurant in Plano six days a week and stays at work from open to close. When I asked him why he doesn't just move closer to the restaurant, he tells me he doesn't want to uproot his young son from his school. For Sky Kuo, his dedication to family goes hand in hand with his dedication to the high standard of food coming out of his kitchen. It's legacy. It's pride. It's survival. And we here in Dallas are all the more fortunate for it.
Next week: Noodle House invites us into their kitchen to show what making 6,000 dumplings from scratch per week entails.
Noodle House 3921 W. Park Blvd. No. 200Y Plano
Closed Mondays 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday