If you’ve ever walked into a crowded house party, then Lao Peng You will definitely feel familiar. You open the door to thumping music, a bunch of people standing around holding booze, and you have no real idea what the f*ck is going on. Luckily, we can tell you exactly what’s happening at this small BYOB Chinese spot in Ukranian Village - some fantastic handmade noodles and dumplings.
Just like trying to figure out the lay of the land at that busy party (OK - where is the bar?), Lao Peng You can be confusing to navigate. There are only a few tables, and it’s unclear how everything works (whose house is this again?). No one’s taking names, there’s no real waiting area, and the counter you order at is in the back of the room. But once someone lets you know it’s your turn to sit down, you’ll experience the same sense of peace and joy that an introvert does when they finally find a quiet bedroom with the house’s cat.
Introvert or not, it’s worth standing surrounded by a bunch of strangers just to eat Lao Peng You’s wonderfully chewy noodles and dumplings. We’ve yet to have something from the short menu we didn’t really like, but our go-to order is the beef noodle soup, which has wide flat noodles in a spicy broth. The cold noodles are a close second - lightly tossed with chili oil, soy, and topped with peanuts. Whatever delivery system you choose, you can count on the noodle’s texture to have a great bite, and for them to be about 64 feet long (also satisfying). All of the dumplings come floating in a spicy sour soup (with fillings like pork and dill, beef and cilantro, and mushroom and egg) and the firm wrappers are a great vehicle for soaking up the broth.
There are a few tasty small plates that are useful to round things out, like either the garlicky cucumber salad, cold chicken, or eggplant. Definitely have one or two of those on the table, especially if you’re here with a group. The one non-negotiable (aside from a bottle opener) is a bread - either the flaky chung yao bing (green onion bread) or the xi’an bing (lamb and cumin).
But like when you go through the host’s emergency box wine, Lao Peng You runs out of food during peak hours. We’ve yet to be able to eat the elusive dou hua (tofu pudding) on any of our visits, so at this point, we’re convinced it’s a myth. But if you come here earlier on a weekday, this place is usually much calmer. And if you’re more of a homebody, this place does a nice job with carry-out. But we like it best when we come here with friends and a lot of booze. After all, we always end up having FOMO when we skip the party.
This is our favorite noodle soup. The meat is tender, and it’s the only dish that comes with wider noodles that are perfectly chewy. Plus, they’re so long they come out of the bowl like some kind of magician’s scarf.
The noodles here are flat and about a third of the size of the ones found in the beef noodle. But they’re still cartoonishly long and a perfect delivery system for the chili oil, aged soy, and peanuts.
This broth is more delicate than the beef, with sesame oil versus chili. So, we add chili oil from the condiment station.
All the dumplings come floating in a spicy sour soup. Our favorites are any with the pork, but the egg and vegetable ones are great too. The beef is a little dry, but the broth makes it not a thing.
An innocuous sounding small plate that ends up having a lot of flavor thanks to the green peppercorn and chili oil.
While the sliced beef shank is tender in the soup, when it’s on its own with just some garlic and chili oil it’s tough. Skip this.
The only thing better in the soup besides the noodles and dumplings is this flaky green onion bread. The xi’an bing (lamb and cumin bread) is also a valid order if (obviously) you like lamb.
We love eating this refreshing salad in between bites of soup and/or dumplings. The cucumbers are garlicky and lightly dressed in sesame oil.
This tofu pudding that we’ve never seen in real life is obviously a catfish. We’re not fooled.