Here's a trend we're mad about: Chinese restaurants popping up all over the Brighton-Allston-Brookline area serving Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles. If you are a fan of this kind of food, add to your list Live Noodles, which opened in Brighton in August.
But bring a big appetite. The soup pot-size serving bowls many dishes arrive in are no joke. And also a warm jacket, because while hovering over a steaming vessel of hot-pot and carbo-loading does help the cause, it is positively frigid when the door swings open to the icy wind tunnel that is Comm Ave. as hungry diners vie for one of the dozen tables in this tiny spot.
Before getting down to the noodles, we start with chicken with chile oil ($8), one of the traditional cold Sichuan appetizers on the menu. Here, it's bone-in with a somewhat rubbery skin, and a little unwieldy to eat. But the meat is succulent, and honestly, we'd eat cardboard if it was swimming in the three-alarm red oil pooled generously around the poultry.
Next we try a flatbread beef wrap ($7), which is essentially one of the tastiest, flakiest scallion pancakes we've ever had, rolled with a slice of roast beef and cut into pinwheels. It's not a light dish, but we can't seem to stop ourselves from polishing it off.
Now for the noodles. You can see the chef rolling, pulling, pounding, stretching, and swinging dough in the open kitchen at the back of restaurant. Noodles come in many variations, but all are at least a foot long and craggy, so they soak up whatever broth or sauce they are bathed in, and they're delightfully chewy.
Spicy lamb flat noodles ($9), an inch wide, half as thick, and so long that there's maybe a dozen strands in the large bowl, are studded with thin pieces of cumin-spiked lamb, baby bok choy, and a chile-oil-based sauce. Slurping the noodles, which are never-ending, makes me feel like Anthony in Tomie dePaola's tale of Strega Nona and the magic pasta pot.
Mala beef hot-pot thin noodles ($10) arrive as a steaming bowl of soup, teeming with linguine-like strands, greens, and tender braised beef in a slightly spicy, brick-red broth. It's as soothing as Vietnamese pho, but a bit more substantial, and should be a go-to to warm your bones.
Pork soup dumplings ($8 for 6) are a fine rendition with chewy skins, savory pork, and a sticky umami broth we wish there was a bit more of. The dumplings look a bit deflated in a town where the competition for plump, slouchy XLB (xiaolongbao) has, happily, gotten fierce. Dry & Spicy Chicken ($18) has a puzzling texture, like it's been cured by the salty spice dip; it's a middle-of-the-road rendition.
We figure after all that meat and wheat we should sneak in a vegetable.
A platter of pea sprouts ($15) offers a bright green heap of tender-crisp shoots, full of grassy, garlicky flavor, and we eat more than should be humanly possible considering our aggressive ordering earlier.
The restaurant is the first in Massachusetts for owner Sam Ho, who also runs Tomo Habachi, a Japanese restaurant in Nashua. This no-frills Chinese concept appears quite different from the sleek sushi spot across the state line, but the kitchen is obviously filled with cooks skilled in authentic cooking. Live Noodles may not be the first in town offering hand-pulled noodles, but it's one of the finest.
1026 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton 617-879-1700www.livenoodles.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $3-$8. Entrees $9-$32 for dishes (to share).
Hours Daily noon-2 a.m.
What to order Flatbread beef wrap, spicy lamb flat noodle, mala beef hot-pot thin noodle, pea sprouts.
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.