Beef, noodle, and soup are three words that can turn into an impressive number of dishes from a surprising number of countries. Within a fifteen-mile radius in Los Angeles, you could theoretically start in Thailand and end up in China, with visits to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam in between. Eight stops, eight completely different beef noodle soups.
And since you theoretically could, why wouldn’t you? All you need is five hours and the stomach space. Here’s what you need to know to pull it off:
— Start this crawl mid-morning, so you can make it to the final stops before they close at 3 p.m. If you have your heart set on Pho 87, do this earlier in the week; later in the week, it gets pretty packed at lunchtime.
— You’ll probably want to enlist a couple of friends to help you at each venue.
— Bring a bunch of cash. (Half the places don’t take credit cards.)
10 a.m. Beef Boat Noodles
Place: Sapp Coffee Shop
Address: 5183 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Feliz
What to Order: #3 Beef Boat Noodles With Everything
Note: Closed on Wednesday
It’s never too early for boat noodles, here or in Thailand, where the soup was (and is) historically served from canal boats in Bangkok. The beef version comes with meatballs, tendon, tripe, and liver, all swimming in a murky broth finished with blood. The result is funky, for sure, but not so weird that the offal-avoiding eater couldn’t find something to like about the spicy sweet-and-sour soup. It will be tempting to add a bowl of jade noodles to your order, but keep in mind we’ve got a long way to go.
10:30 a.m.: Sul Lung Tang
Place: Han Bat Sul Lung Tang
Address: 4163 West Fifth Street, Koreatown
What to order: Ox Bone Soup – Mixed
Sul lung tang, the murky white Korean soup made from boiling oxtail bones for hours and hours, is one of the staples of Korean cuisine. And yet somehow this intensely rich yet homey soup is downright bland—that is, until you make use of the buffet of tabletop condiments. Don’t be stingy with the salt, or the scallions, or the chili paste, or the two kinds of kimchi. There are plenty of quality versions of sul lung tang to be found in K-Town, including at newcomer Sun Nong Dan and a clear-broth version at Young Dong. But for a Los Angeles classic, Han Bat is where you want to be. (Plus, they’re super-quick.)
11 a.m.: Naeng Myun
Place: Yu Chun
Address: 3185 West Olympic Boulevard, Koreatown
What to Order: Chic Mul Naengmyun
If it’s summer in Koreatown, then it’s peak naeng myun season—though this refreshing bowl of noodles in cold beef broth was originally a wintertime dish, because it coincided with the end of the buckwheat harvest. Those buckwheat noodles usually get topped with shredded cucumbers, pickled radish, sesame seeds, and a hard-boiled egg, though the version at Yu Chun differentiates itself by using a chewy, pitch-black noodle made from arrowroot. Have fun digging around in the crushed ice for slices of beef, and be sure to make use of the vinegar and hot mustard on the table.
11:30 a.m.: Galbitang
Address: 3303 West Sixth Street, Koreatown
What to Order: Galbi Tang (Short-Rib Soup)
You can’t leave Koreatown without a bowl of the classic short-rib soup known as galbitang: short-rib soup. Seongbukdong is a small homey joint known for its braised-short-rib stew (galbi jjim), so it should be no surprise that their short-rib noodle soup is also excellent. The meat is cooked perfectly, then cut off the bones into bite-size pieces right at your table. Pick them out with chopsticks and then eat the beefy broth spooned over bites of the multigrain purple rice. At some stops, either the noodles or the soup will be the star. Here, it’s the beef.
12:15 p.m.: Pho
Place: Pho 87
Address: 1019 North Broadway, Chinatown
What to Order: Pho Dac Biet
For the absolute best version of Vietnamese beef noodle soup in Los Angeles, you’ll want to make the drive south to Westminster, or even east to San Gabriel or El Monte. But for the purposes of this crawl, there’s a pretty great version to be had in the outskirts of LA’s Chinatown, which just happens to be between stops four and six. The fragrant pho dac biet has everything you want from a classic Southern pho: rare slices of beef and plenty of brisket, tripe, and tendon floating alongside rice noodles, onions, scallions, and cilantro.
1 p.m.: Beef Udon
Where: Marugame Monzo
Address: 329 East First Street, Little Tokyo
What to Order: Beef Udon
If you go to Sapp for the soup, and Seongbukdong for the beef, than you’re here for the noodles: plump ribbons of pearly white udon that go from dough to giant slicer right in front of your eyes (provided you get a seat at the glass-enclosed counter). Tempura, seaweed, and curry are all popular toppings—but this is a beef noodle crawl, after all, so a giant mound of shredded beef is what you’ll order in your udon soup. A warning: at peak lunchtime, this Little Tokyo stop might require the longest search for parking of all the stops on our route. It’s worth it.
2 p.m.: Spicy Beef Noodle Soup
Address: 301 West Valley Boulevard #114, San Gabriel
This hip new noodle joint from the owners of the now-infamous Chengdu Taste closes for lunch at 3 p.m., so you’ll want to keep a close eye on the clock to ensure you get there on time. The beef noodle soup is Chongqing-style, which means that beneath that big pile of greenery, you’ll find spaghetti-like noodles and hunks of stewed beef swimming in a chili oil–slicked broth that is as numbing as it is flavorful.
2:45 p.m.: Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
Option No. 1: Bull Demon King, 8632 Valley Boulevard, Rosemead
Option No. 2: Noodle King, 1265 East Valley Boulevard, Alhambra
Option No. 3: 101 Noodle Express, 1408 East Valley Boulevard, Alhambra
When it comes to what most people call “Taiwanese”-style beef noodle soup, this part of town has an embarrassment of riches. So at this point, you are free to go Choose Your Own Adventure on us. If you want to stick with spicy, head east on Valley to Bull Demon King. (Although be warned: it closes for lunch at 3 p.m.) The fat noodles there are outstanding, and the broth is offered up at varying levels of heat.
But after MIAN, you might be looking for something a a bit milder. If that’s the case, hit up Noodle King, which is also on Valley but not as far east. Its simple soup feels right at home in this bare-bones operation. Thick hunks of beef, that signature dark-brown broth, and your choice of noodles (you should probably go wide).
And finally, if you’re looking for a more flavorful version of this classic broth, head to 101 Noodle Express. The hand-torn noodles are worth upgrading to, but it’s the fragrant broth that makes this version a standout. Plus, if you’re not full (although at this point, how could you not be?!), the beef rolls—beef, scallions, and cilantro rolled in a scallion pancakes—are some of the best you’ll find anywhere. At the very least you can, and should, take one home for later.