On the outside, Watertown Square’s Home Taste looks like just an ordinary Chinese takeout joint. It’s a plain little storefront on a block lined with other plain storefronts. Inside isn’t too exciting, either: tangerine walls with some crooked photos, a few tables packed with pals slurping soup, and a takeout counter. This isn’t the type of place to sit and linger too long. There are leaves on the floor. People keep opening the door, blowing the cold wind in.
No, this is the type of place to hover over an aromatic bowl of broth and eat as fast as you can, elated that you discovered such a treasure. Because amid the perfectly pleasant Americanized Chinese stuff — puffy golden chicken fingers, spring rolls, crab Rangoon — there are Chinese burgers and freshly made hand-pulled noodles worth double parking for. Oh, and people do: On a recent visit, Mount Auburn Street was backed up because of a car with its flashers on, idling outside the restaurant. Eventually a man burst onto the sidewalk toting three large paper bags of food and hopped into the passenger seat. Much beeping ensued.
Co-owner Ying Chen runs Home Taste with her husband, Kai. They come from Henan, a province in central China known for its hand-pulled noodles. She says that spicy hot oil seared noodles, individually yanked and topped with shards of garlic and green onions, is the best-selling dish. The noodles are wide and gummy, twisted and stretched and folded into strands before boiling, settling into ribbons awash in chile oil. There’s nothing else to the dish except some stalks of bok choy, bobbling on the side, and that’s just fine. All you need are these noodles, thick and slicked with tingly oil, delicious Novocaine for your tongue. Eat them quickly, though. Left to sit too long, and they’ll congeal into a brick of beige carbs.
Chongqing small noodles with minced meat and peanuts is the other top seller. These noodles are thinner and squigglier, inferior vehicles for sopping up that stinging orange chile oil. But that’s what the minced meat is for. Get yours with tender pork, which acts as the perfect spice sponge. Peanuts add crunch. Just be careful if you’re getting takeout. They wrap the bowl in a big plastic bag tied at the top, Easter Basket-style. If the lid isn’t securely fastened over the bowl, you’ll end up with a puddle of orange oil at the bottom of your bag like a sack of goldfish from the pet store.
On the side, ask for rou jia mo, or a Chinese burger. A moment for the burgers: These are not burgers the way a Quarter Pounder is a burger. No seeded roll, juicy patty, neon-yellow blanket of American cheese, and pickles. Instead, Chen says that these “could be the world’s oldest sandwich or hamburger” — the baked bread, made from wheat flour batter, dates back to the Qin dynasty, she says. (Picture a firm English muffin without the nooks and crannies.)
You’ll want yours with cumin lamb, aromatic enough to perfume an entire dining room. The stewed meat is juicy and rich, with ribbons of soft green pepper and onion threaded through. Served in a little wax paper envelope, it’s the perfect hand-held street food.
Speaking of the street: You should head out to check on your car. Grab one more burger for the road, and give up your space — judging by this line, someone needs it.
58 Mount Auburn St.,
Watertown, 617-923-0227, www.hometastema.com
Kara Baskin can be reached at email@example.com.