Listen, I may not be a noodle “expert,” but I fancy myself a magic collector, and I’m delighted to tell you St. Paul’s Magic Noodle is rife with both.
Located in Midway, on the northeast corner of University and Hamline avenues, Magic Noodle distances itself from its peers by specializing in dishes featuring Chinese-style hand-pulled noodles. To be clear, all of their noodles used for everything are hand-pulled, despite the menu ambiguously suggesting only the soups contain them. Sometimes this man-made touch creates a line out the door—both due to demand and the very real limitations of the human bodies creating our feasts.
Despite its central location, it took a friend drawing my attention to Magic Noodle via an Instagram photo of their Shanxi shaved noodles to bring the restaurant to my attention. The caption read (sarcastically): “Terrible no good Shanxi shaved noodles. Don’t even think about going to Magic Noodle on a cold and rainy day to fill up on these and cumin mutton pies and juicy dumplings and hot tea.” Quickly thereafter, this friend made it clear that Magic Noodle was performing a public service, one soup at a time, and had saved them buying “a plane ticket back to China.” Any noodle place that spares a noodle connoisseur a flight across the Pacific was worth investigating, I figured.
Open since late May, Magic Noodle is the kind of place I want to curl up and live inside, because everything is surprising, from the flavors to the dishes themselves. Beyond the aforementioned Shanxi Shaved Noodle Soup (featuring fall-apart-in-your-mouth tender beef brisket, cilantro, pickled mustard, and scallion commingling for an earthy yet bright flavor), I’m already craving another bowl of the Chongqing Spicy Noodle Soup. Dressed with peanuts, minced pork, and herbs, it’s not nearly as hot as its magma-red color would suggest, though it’ll certainly leave your mouth pleasantly numb from a healthy dose of Sichuan peppers.
The more off-the-beaten-path sides at Magic Noodle get special, really fast. For fun, we ordered Beef Burritos and Bone Cylinder (2), just see what these could possibly be. The former simply listed “beef with scallion, cilantro, and hoisin” as its ingredients; what came out was similar to a thicker lefse-like pancake rolled into a spiral resembling a very long swiss roll. The table was split on whether it “worked”; despite an amazing flavor, the texture of the whole shebang, and its tendency to squidge apart while going in for a bite, proved a point of contention.
Those mysterious “bone cylinders,” though? No description accompanied them. We were served a pair of gloves, some translucent drinking straws, and two honking pork shanks, with the joints still attached, and tender roasted meat chunks barely dangling on the bone. Donning gloves (“The better to pick you with, my dear!” I muttered under my breath), the server instructed us to use our straws for “sucking out the marrow.” Again, the table was split on the savoriness of this proposition. Those of us who were into sucking marrow through a soda straw were pretty delighted, even if we took a moment to ponder if we’d ever before been handed marrow in its pure, un-gussied form.
As item after item was demolished at the table, a pair of employees took turns hand-pulling the noodles before our very eyes. Magic Noodle seemed to know such a feat would draw Instagram influencers like moths to a flame, so they’ve thoughtfully constructed a plexiglass barrier between the dining room and the noodle pulling area. Gawking wasn’t exactly encouraged, but neither was it dissuaded.
After all, it’s from this element that Magic Noodle draws its power, on every level. When early lines stretched out the door, management issued a kind, emoji-laden reminder that, while they “DO REALLY APPRECIATE all your kindness & support & understandings for waiting,” hand-pulled means a human is literally performing work we’ve become accustomed to letting industrial factories do for us. The noodles coming from this kitchen—in their myriad diameters/lengths/textures, all with the capacity to grip sauce/ingredients/broth better than a machine-made product ever could—are what will keep the majority of folks coming back time and time again… not being handed bones and told to have at it, fun as that may be.
1337 University Ave. W., St. Paul