Dinner and a Show at This Old-School Noodle Joint

Chris Malloy
Noodles about to take a brief dip in boiling water.
Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.

38: Hand-Pulled Noodles from China Magic Noodle House

You can easily spot the novice diner at this unassuming Chinese eatery in Chandler. He or she is sitting with his or her back to the large kitchen window. This is where the "magic" happens at China Magic Noodle House.

During your time at China Magic, chefs will almost certainly be putting dough through stretching, flinging, and twisting, all in an eye-catching effort to produce hand-pulled noodles. The restaurant makes them in the style of the Lanzhou region of northwestern China. You'll want to watch. It's okay for a couple to sit on the same side of the table in order to better take it all in.

You'll quickly receive a colorful menu, prompting you to make your first decision: Which type of hand-pulled noodles do you prefer? There are five choices: narrow flat, thick, regular, wide flat, and shave. Next, the menu of approximately 57 items brings more choosing. You'll likely hone in on one of three sections: noodles, noodle in soup, or stir-fried noodles.

click to enlarge The Beef Noodles with Oyster Sauce may be one of our favorite dishes at China Magic Noodle House. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The Beef Noodles with Oyster Sauce may be one of our favorite dishes at China Magic Noodle House.
Lauren Cusimano
If you want to go with option one, order beef noodles with oyster sauce. Your dish will arrive with chunks of beef topping a tangle of hand-pulled noodles – all sprinkled with bright green onion slices and swimming in aromatic oyster sauce. You can tell the noodles are made by hand, as no two noodles look totally alike. Some are squigglier. Others seem more stretched. Since they tend to cling together, you have to eat the noodles by bringing a small cluster up from the pile and lowering your mouth to meet your noodles halfway. The rest of the restaurant's patrons seem to be immersed in all the noodle action, so it's no big deal to really dig in.

Each tug you take of the noodle mound creates a puff of steam. The beef adds the chewy protein you need in tandem with the smooth yet flavorful noodles. Green onion provides texture. Of course, there's a caddy of spicy condiments to turn up the heat if you so choose. You'll continue to lean ever closer to your dish as you work down the hill of cream-colored noodles, which is fine, because the oyster sauce emits an unforgettable scent of onion, garlic, and, of course, oyster.

China Magic Noodle House works the neck, but not the wallet. Most dishes are under $10.

China Magic Noodle House. 2015 North Dobson Road, #2, Chandler; 480-786-8002.
Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Monday.

The Essentials so far:
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
38. Hand-pulled noodles from China Magic Noodle House