King Won Ton: Great noodles at even better prices 

A poster-size photograph of a smiling cook sitting on a thick bamboo pole cantilevered over a mound of dough is the first thing I noticed when I walked into King Won Ton & Noodle.

The second was a heaping bowl of steaming noodles coming out of a windowed kitchen below the ­photograph.

The noodle-maker in the photo was standing by a vat of boiling water. He measured out a handful of thin, fresh noodles, placed them on a flat wire basket attached to a long bamboo handle, submerged the basket in boiling water; cooled them under cold running water; dipped them back into the boiling water and finally plopped them on top of a bowl of dumplings and won tons. 

He finished the dish with a ladle of hot broth, and the bowl was whisked away. I watched him working this way nonstop for an hour as I ate.

His noodles had an extraordinary texture, a crispness between the teeth and on the tongue like none I’d ever tasted.

Mind you, these were fresh, thin, slightly crinkly, boiled noodles, which normally would never be described as “crisp,” but these were just that, and exciting to eat.

The ridiculously large dumplings, about the size of small baked potatoes, were filled with tree ears, black mushrooms, coarse hand-chopped pork and little shrimp.

The thin noodle wrappers on gargantuan won tons, bigger than golf balls, encasing a knobby mixture of gelatinous pork and shrimp, made them look like brains.

The chicken broth, clear and strong, was nuanced with dried shrimp roe.

I’ll find any excuse to drop in for another bowl of this comfort food:  No. 18, Won Ton and Dumpling Noodle Soup ($5.95), despite the crazy proportions.

There are other treats: a super crunchy, house-made scallion pancake ($2.99), and juicy salt-and-pepper chicken wings ($6.50) made only with the choice medial sections of the wings.

No one should leave King Won Ton  without eating  noodles in some form, made at 6 a.m. every day by chef/owner Chen Shao Tai himself, the old way, at his 16-year-old noodle factory on Quesada Street.

A former beer-maker from the Pearl River Delta in China who emigrated to San Francisco, Chen traveled back and forth to Hong Kong no less than 30 times to perfect the technique.

Two years ago, he caught the restaurant bug. By 10 a.m., he’s at the restaurant, choosing the pork, making the broths and marinades, and overseeing everything himself.

Prices are impossibly low. Every penny goes into the food.

King Won Ton & Noodle

Location: 1936 Irving St. (between 20th and 21st avenues), S.F.
Contact: (415) 682-9813
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily
Price range: $2.99 to $11.99
Recommended dishes: Won ton and dumpling soup noodles; scallion cake; braised beef with clear broth and radish; spicy dan jai beef dan dan mein; soft pork bone lai mein (ramen)
Credit cards: None; cash only
Reservations: No reservations

Patricia Unterman is author of the second edition of the San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.  Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

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Patricia Unterman

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