Where to: Aries Noodle & Dumpling.
Why: To settle in for a leisurely exploration of exceptional northern Chinese food in Waltham Center — notably seaweed and cucumber salads awash in garlic shards, fiery mapo tofu, pork in wasabi sauce (a chef’s special), and shredded potatoes interlaced with hot chili peppers.
The Back Story: Chef Sean Zhang is responsible for the structurally admirable dumplings at Wang’s Fast Food in Somerville, and now the talented chef is here, crafting dumplings, noodle soups, and other specialties native to Qingdao, China. Co-owner Aries Rong Dou grew up in Qingdao and was vexed by the lack of restaurants that served her native cuisine, especially hand-pulled noodles. So she decided to open a restaurant with her husband, Shengkui Ji, and enlist the help of Zhang, a former colleague.
First, though, Ji had to leave China.
“Ours is a love story,” Dou says. Dou had lived in Boston for many years and traveled back to China in 2015, where she met Ji, who just so happened to hail from her hometown. They hit it off.
“He moved here for me,” she says. “We thought, ‘There are no traditional noodles in Boston! Why don’t we just learn how to make them and open a restaurant?’ ”
The pair now has two kids and lives in Framingham. They’re still ramping up the bandwidth to offer hand-pulled noodles — it’s a time-consuming process — but request them when the restaurant isn’t too busy (which, judging by recent crowds, isn’t often).
What to Eat: Chances are you’ll wait for a table. Grab a little laminated menu at the host stand and strategize your order: You’ll want a savory Chinese crepe, which looks like a burrito in an omelet suit, served sliced in half on a wooden cutting board; shrimp dumplings — pleasingly juicy — and a bowl of those refreshing cucumbers, topped with smashed garlic. A deep bowl of mapo tofu is orange-red, like an electric sunset, burbling with tofu and nubs of minced pork. Add some rice to sop up that numbing broth. Szechuan style pork with an oily hot sauce is just spicy enough, with plenty of chunks of tender meat. Mix it with crisp shredded potatoes for extra heft and some astringent bite. Dishes come out consistently but slowly, allowing plenty of time to take a breather, gulp some water, and go back for more. Groups, most of them Chinese, tend to linger.
What to Drink: Lots of water, plus milk tea and soft drinks.
The Takeaway: Worth the wait. A sign next to the entrance asks: “You satisfied?” Waddling out the door two hours after sitting down, tongue still numb, the answer is probably “yes.”
617 Main St., Waltham,