Dumplings are just one of the specialties at Chong Qing Noodles House, but they’re the best reason to eat a meal there. To date, there are two types of dumplings to choose from, cheng du zhong dumplings ($11.99) or ravioli with chili sauce ($12.99).
The waiter recommended the ravioli because they’re spicier, which, he said, is characteristic of the cuisine from Chongqing. These chewy, tender dumplings are served in a broth the color of liquid fire. We asked for the spice temperature to be turned down to a lower setting. And that, my friends, was the right decision for our table. Because not spicy at Chong Qing equals super spicy everywhere else on the planet.
The rest of the menu largely consists of, as the name suggests, noodle dishes and noodle soups. A mixed potato floss ($3.99) is a less successful appetizer. Potatoes are delicious when smashed, fried or baked. The floss was simply diced, the uncooked texture of jicama, rather flavorless and doused in a vinegary sauce. As a salad, it aspired to be as ethereal as a Vietnamese green papaya salad. Lacking fresh herbs, tomatoes, green beans, peanuts, and, crucially, fish sauce, this plate of potato floss made me long for the tang and tangle of finely julienned papaya.
Sichuan cold noodles ($5.99) is Chong Qing Noodles House’s low-key take on a noodle salad. It’s much less refined than the one Shen Hua used to serve. When Shen Hua first opened on College Avenue, they served the definitive version of, what they called, a bon bon chicken salad. Their combination of cucumber, noodles, shredded chicken and black sesame seeds was a perfect dish on a hot day. But the key to the salad’s success was the most delicate version of a peanut sauce I’ve ever tasted. Sadly, the dish went from being featured on the menu, to only making cameo appearances as an occasional special, and then it disappeared altogether.
Now that Shen Hua has permanently closed, I wonder if that recipe will be locked away in the chef’s memory for all eternity. If I were the owner of Chong Qing, I’d track the recipe down and repurpose it to give my cold noodle dish a zestier dash of pizzazz.
If you’ve ever wanted to try an elixir made from cabbage, order the sauerkraut pork rice noodles ($11.99). Including the word “sauerkraut” in the dish’s name renders it a misnomer. The broth doesn’t have the overpowering fermented flavor that can smother a hot dog. Instead, it tastes like cabbage leaves that have been stewed down until the stems release every last drop of their light and leafy essence. The broth wasn’t mossy or grassy but I remember it evoked—in my imagination—the color green on my taste buds.
Chong Qing Noodles House is located at 1635 Park St., one of those business addresses that’s jinxed. In the past several years, at least four different restaurants have tried to make a go of it there. For sentimental reasons, my favorite of the bunch was Black Bull Tacos. The last time I ate there, I met my friend Mercedes for dinner before we saw Jordan Peele’s film Get Out. It was the last movie we saw together before she died from cancer.
Short-lived from 2017 to 2018, Black Bull’s tacos were as inventive (duck hearts! roasted radish! lobster!) as they were delicious. Every time I went there was something new on the menu, and the place was often packed. Did they close because diners in the East Bay didn’t want to pay more for “gourmet” tacos? Or do the numbers 1635 add up to something dubious in the great halls of numerology?
The décor has changed since that last movie night out. A revamped kitchen appears to have eaten into the square footage of the small dining room. Inside, there are three booths and a few tables. Chong Qing Noodles House, however, has made a more robust patio area with several tables shaded by orange umbrellas.
For an instant, I hesitated outside the door before going in to try the dumplings. As the memory of that Get Out meal returned to me, I felt a twinge of melancholy that all the spice in China couldn’t burn off. But the dumplings alone might put a stop to the series of revolving doors at 1635 Park St.
Chong Qing Noodles House, open Tues–Sun, 11am to 2:30pm and 5pm to 9pm. 1635 Park St., Alameda. 510.744.6973. yelp.com/biz/chong-qing-noodles-house-alameda