The country and western soundtrack and the inviting red booths made our first visit to Special Noodle as memorable as an authentic diner in a David Lynch film. By the time the music had switched to early Miami Vice classics, our order of Old Peking Minced Pork Dumplings ($14.99) arrived, along with two very cold Tsingtao beers ($6.50).
The bowl of succulent noodles arrived, bordered with cucumber and carrots and a mound of intensely spiced minced pork, all of which was to be swirled into the tender, house made noodles. An undertone of sesame oil grounded the layered flavors of this house specialty—I recommend it to anyone who loves Chinese cuisine.
The sweetness of the yellow bean paste played counterpoint to the powerful beauty of minced ginger, garlic, rice wine and dark soy, all of which saturated the tiny bits of minced pork, and by swirling, added punch to the matchstick carrots and cucumbers. An outrageous and memorable creation. Another order of circular soup dumplings, paper thin and tender as butter, arrived each one twisted up into a pointed top.
We added chili oil, soy and rice vinegar to these gorgeous dumplings filled with spiced shrimp ($18.50), another specialty showcasing the restaurant’s housemade pastries. A platter of vegetable chow fun blew me away with wide bands of all-star chow fun noodles slathered in a light garlicky glaze and tossed with tiny florets of fresh broccoli, crunchy bean sprouts and long ribbons of sweet onion. I love chow fun noodles. Love love love them and these were unbeatable ($14.99).
Families will like the house sweet & sour pork ($18.99), lightly batter-fried and slathered in a rich red piquant sauce, along with onions and green peppers. We cut through the sweetness with soy and chili sauce, and voila! Fun food for adults.
Another day at lunch we inhaled a bowl of enchanting, complex red oil pork wontons, tumescent as a baby’s thigh, and loaded with that undeniably bold fragrance of red oil ($13.99). The generous portion arrived swiftly in a deep red bowl. Piled high with pliant baby bok choy, garlic and a dusting of minced peanuts and fresh scallions over the silken wontons. Each spoonful—which we added to our bowls along with the outstanding white rice ($2)—was succulent, moist, addictive. The wontons were gossamer as lingerie, filled with vibrant flavors. I’d come back for this dish alone. And I wouldn’t share!
A steaming basket of pork and cabbage dumplings ($10.99), made with a feather-light touch, showed off the handiwork of this kitchen. Tender, yet full of brilliantly balanced flavors, it lent itself to whatever we chose to add: shake on some chili oil, drizzle with dark rice vinegar, hit it with a splash of soy sauce.
The added beauty of the entire dining experience here, as in all top Chinese restaurants, is the line-up of condiments. You’re able to customize every dish to your own taste. The red chili oil can take you into incendiary territory with the flick of a wrist. Splash rice vinegar and soy on plain white rice and enjoy the transformation. The steamed dumplings were the case in point, coming alive with even deeper dynamics once they’d been dressed to our taste. Light and tender, these hand-made dumplings are what Special Noodle is all about.
Ranging from dim sum pastries to a long list of stir-fry, stone pot, claypot and chow mein, the menu spans Cantonese greatest hits as well as many regional specialties.
The abundant staff here is eager to please. The adjoining larger dining room has already hosted birthdays, anniversaries and big graduation parties. It’s been so long since we had a notable Chinese dinner house. Special Noodle has filled that long vacant gap. You’re in for a treat.
Special Noodle – Daily 11am-10pm; Fri & Sat 11am-11pm.
415 Ocean St., SC specialnoodle-santacruz.com/