When Peter Tondreau, co-founder of a growing pack of New York City restaurants, returned to the States after six months in Taiwan, he brought back a big love: soup. Taiwanese beef noodle soup, to be specific.
“I ate it every day,” he admits, “and was like ‘Holy sh*t this is awesome! Why don’t people here know about this?’”
You may know Tondreau from Chelsea Market mainstay Bar Suzette, a go-to crêpe slinger for around six years now. But if you want a taste of that beef soup he loves, you’ll have to head to Very Fresh Noodles—and be ready for a line.
On a recent mid-afternoon tasting visit, well past prime lunching hours, VFN (my abbreviation, not theirs) had to close for some kitchen updates. Over the course of this one off-brand hour, I saw literal dozens of customers get turned away, palpably disappointed. At peak lunch times, lines can run 30 deep or more.
It’s a remarkable feat to attain this level of popularity, in a market already so jam-packed with quality options. But VFN justifies its own hype. With a stripped-down menu of three items—Taiwanese beef noodle is the runaway crowd hit—the tiny little noodle cubby has managed to zero in on delicious.
There’s a “tingly” beef or lamb cumin dish, served dry or in soup, with the powerful wallop of Szechuan peppercorns, chili oil, cumin—and of course a tangle of their delicious biangbiang noodles. There’s a savory vegan option that I was quite taken by, using a traditional Chinese mushroom broth, bok choy, pickled mustard greens and a toothy mock duck to stellar results. And of course, there’s that “banging” beef noodle soup that drives Tondreau to curse.
His co-founder is chef Victor Huang, who clocked kitchen hours at Bricolage and Mission Chinese before working for Tondreau at Bar Suzette. Tondreau and Huang have an easy manner and an obvious rapport; they’re both Asian-American with California roots, with a shared aesthetic and a love for street food.
Very Fresh Noodles may not be the only place to sling these types of noodle dishes in the city, but it’s certainly the only one in Chelsea. Tondreau says that’s the goal: to bring a flavor of Flushing or Chinatown to a different demographic (slick branding and prime market position definitely help). Additionally, the highly public display of making and pulling the noodles give an added draw for the uninitiated.
“It’s theater,” says Tondreau, “and it helps people feel more connected to their food. We’re doing it street style, where the stuff that usually happens in the back of the house is right up front for everyone to see.”