It's hard to get enthused by the looks of Kung Fu Noodle, but the aromas making their way from adjacent tables tell another story.
I have to stress how, shall we say, efficient, the space is. Five wooden tables are lined up on either side of the narrow dining room, totaling 10. And these aren't your usual restaurant tabletops, either, as they were all handmade by the family in charge using sturdy two-by-fours, some still imprinted with random marks courtesy of Home Depot. Don't expect to sit back and recline on the wee little stools used at these tables. Other than a few good luck kitties, a string of mini red lanterns, a smallish flat-screen propped up by the corner entrance of the shop and a tiny string of green leafy vines, there isn't much in the way of decor, and that's completely fine.
Not for the gluten-allergy afflicted by any means, the noodles, available in both stretched and thick ribbons, are hand-pulled by a pair of Chinese transplants, hailing from the Anhui province. Their daughter and son act as servers as needed. As a fan of short menus that focus on the best a restaurant has to offer instead of trying to satisfy eaters with several pages of items, I was definitely charmed by Kung Fu Noodle. There are 12 items on laminated sheets of Day-Glo paper—that's it—broken up into three categories. Choose between noodles, dumplings and buns, and ready your facehole for some comfort.
I stopped in for my first try on a recent rainy Friday evening. As a fan of a little heat, I was intrigued when the server tried to actively talk me out of a bowl of handmade noodles with lamb, a dish that had been recommended by Quealy Watson of Southtown's Hot Joy. The usual warning chiles were nowhere in sight, so how hot could this actually be? I had made my choice, so I was sticking with it. What arrived was a fragrant bowl of dark crimson broth, bok choy halves and pieces of tender lamb. After my first spoonful, I vowed never to doubt the server again as the smoky heat from the chili powder, peppercorns and full-blown chili pieces hit the back of my throat with dead-on precision. I may or may not have fished them out of my piping hot bowl to avoid biting into one of the suckers.
Otherwise, my larger order of pork and celery dumplings (the portions are out of control and definitely made for sharing) was plenty delicious. Clearly handmade and rustic, the beef dumplings had a simple charm about them. I happily dipped dumpling after dumpling into the tableside hot chili oil, because I can't seem to learn my lesson. My dinner partner's fried noodles with vegetable were equally solid (if I had one tiny criticism it would be the heavy-handed use of oil).
The other thing Kung Fu's got going for it is that prices are almost ridiculously low. I left that night with another meal's worth of leftovers and nary a dent in my wallet.
My second visit happened by chance, after I found myself in the area on a Sunday. I popped in hoping to get my chubby hands on the buns, which weren't available during my previous visit. Alas, the good luck kitty wasn't on my side that day, but I didn't leave empty handed. I made another few meals out of two orders of dumplings—a savory pork and chive order worth repeating, and an earthy pork and mushroom that wasn't necessarily a favorite.
Although I traditionally only visit most eateries twice, a third stop was in order so I could sample the steamed buns, which are only available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (although that's not expressed on the menu). I was able to try the Chinese buns—the pork and cabbage variety has a longer prep time and wasn't available that evening—and they were definitely worth the wait. The buns, large and filled with a spicy mixture of veggies and lamb, made for a tasty dinner along with a bowl of the only noodles not made in-house, the sweet potato noodles with lean and perfectly seasoned beef in a light broth.
All three visits were met with contemporary country music streamed from the joint's lone TV (that juxtaposed nicely with the pulling and slapping of noodles on kitchen counters in the back), and most tables were filled with Chinese students, regulars according to our server. There's really nothing quite like Kung Fu Noodle in the SA Asian scene, for better or worse. But you can leave with a warm, noodle-filled belly and that's always a good thing.
Kung Fu Noodle
6733 Bandera, (210) 451-5586
Skinny: Don't go in expecting much more than a giant comforting bowl of hand-pulled noodles, oodles of dumplings and spicy steamed buns
Best Bets: Pork and chive dumplings, sweet potato noodles with beef, handmade noodles with lamb, fried noodles with vegetables
Hours: 11am-9pm daily