No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service

Now the restaurant that makes its patrons wait for a table is always pushing its luck. The place that rushes diners through the meal isn’t going to get return business. The joint that makes you shout to be heard by a dinnermate and leaves you with ringing in the ears a la a rock concert should not make anyone’s favorite lists…unless it’s a Chinese restaurant. In particular, a little beef noodle joint frequented by hundreds of locals in the Central distrcit of Hong Kong each lunch hour.

People come from just about every office building in the surrounding area to this famed (though doubtfully ever written up in a travel guide) restaurant that is best known for its beef noodle bowls. In fact, the restaurant only serves a handful of dishes following the formula: beef + any kind of noodle + soup or curry. They offer five drinks hot or cold: regular Chinese tea, milk tea, lemon tea, coffee, or water. Clearly, the focused offerings must be good (in fact, really good) for people to hike up a hill to get to this local establishment in Soho (yes, HK has a soho district too).

The weekday routine all starts at about noon each day. Puzzled office workers arrive only to find the place “closed.” The reality is that the place opens only when all the staff arrive which usually is around 12:30. It should be noted that most Hong Kong folks eat a later lunch around 1PM. While the staff of around 10 (4 front end, 6 cooks) trickle in, the line forms around the block. With the summer heat, people still don’t mind waiting in the direct sun.

When you finally get in, it’s a mad dash to sit down, order, and eat. Singles and doubles often share tables (fairly common in Chinese style). No menus, no specials. On both floors of the restaurant there is a caller who takes orders by shouting them to the kitchen or shouting into a walkie-talkie. The kitchen almost never responds in confirmation nor ever writes anything down. Food and drink come streaming out of the kitchen on trays which get placed by the caller. The caller proceeds to dish out what every individual ordered, relying solely on memory. Help yourself to your own utensils and dig in. When finished, the caller shouts out your total owed to the cashier, once again by memory or by whatever he sees on your table. You pay, you leave and the next individual gets seated.

So much for atmosphere, ambiance, and service. But that hardly is the point. It’s the food, stupid. The beef (meaty beef, not the common tendon that is also popular) here is juicy, tender, and especially flavorful without being salty. The noodles are firm and nicely textured giving you the starchy full feeling. All can be had for under a hundred HK dollar for two, a generous meal amounting to under $15.

A tourist may never find this gem in the narrow streets (thanks to my uncle for showing me) but I’d be happy to provide directions to anyone in town.