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$20 Dinner

The Hunan Slurp Team Brings Stellar Rice Noodles to Long Island City 

"This is the new Chinatown," Sofun Kitchen's co-owner tells Hell Gate.

A bow of noodles in broth, topped with an egg and lime slices, on top of a white marble table.

Beef brisket rice noodles, $18. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Given that the (terrific) new noodle bar Sofun Kitchen is in Long Island City, you might assume that it's hidden on one of those old-school LIC industrial wasteland blocks, or that it's in one those generic storefronts at the base of some new condo.

You'd be wrong. Sofun, the sister restaurant of the acclaimed (by me and others) Hunan Slurp in the East Village, is located on the ground floor of a two-story, terraced office park that's plopped amid the area's auto body shops, on a street that will forever be closed to through traffic thanks to an ancient glacial rock formation barricading the northern end. 

Thanks, ancient glacial rock formation! 

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

At one point the street was used as a parking lot, but in 2019, the developer VOREA, working with the Department of Transportation, turned the block into a public pedestrian plaza, setting out seating for both passersby as well as patrons of Focal Point Brewery, Sobremesa, and now, the lucky noodle slurpers of Sofun Kitchen.

Tofu and ground pork rice noodles, $18. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

I say "lucky" because the noodle bowls at Sofun are excellent—a riot of big flavors tangled up in slippery rice noodles, served either "dry" or with just enough rich and complicated broth to slurp like a hearty soup. Co-owner Chao Wang, a visual artist by training, first got into the restaurant business because he missed his grandmother's cooking back home in Hunan. Here in Long Island City, he's expanded the menu to include the traditional tastes of other Chinese regions as well, from the numbing peppercorns of Sichuan to the sour undertones in Guizhou cooking.  

"LIC is getting more and more popular," Chao told Hell Gate. "This is the new Chinatown. So some of the menu is the same as Hunan Slurp, but a lot is totally new. And there's dim sum. It's a restaurant for the locals here: more diverse, from different regions in China, inspired by the chefs in the kitchen and my friends."   

There are about ten different noodle bowls from which to choose, and we loved both of our selections. The braised beef brisket bowl featured tons of meltingly tender meat in a bright, tangy broth of lemongrass, cilantro, star anise, peppercorns, lime, and basil—so good.  

Beef brisket rice noodles, $18. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

And the tofu and ground pork rice noodle bowl was maybe even better. Served without broth, this was creamy from the tofu, chewy from the ground pork, fiery with chili oil, and popping with all kinds of toppings like peanuts and pickles. Other choices include the signature Lu Fen, brought over from Hunan Slurp, which can be had with beef shank, as a vegetarian chilled rice noodle bowl, or as a soupy version starring spicy ribs.   

Sofun also has a half-dozen shareable appetizers, including popcorn chicken; a shiso cucumber salad; gorgeous pig trotters slathered in garlic sauce; and a deeply funky and delicious pidan, or century egg salad with grilled eggplant and peppers.

Century egg salad, $14 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
Garlic pig trotters, $16. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The dim sum is dope too. There are pork soup dumplings; translucent dumplings similar to har gaw; durian puff pastries; and a trio of juicy, hot, and sweet fried pumpkin balls that are astonishingly good. Beverage-wise, there are only soft drinks for now, but Chao told us that Chinese beer and cocktails are coming soon. 

Fried pumpkin balls, $8. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The Sofun space is a bit cramped—if you sit at the first of four tables in the tiny dining area, you'll have to get up from your seat to let people squeeze by—but it's sunny and stylish and generally a pleasant place to be. Besides, picnic possibilities abound in the Street Seats plaza, so if it's a nice evening, just go outside and eat with our friend the ancient boulder.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Sofun Kitchen is located at 43-40 12th Street in Queens, at the corner of 43rd Road, and is currently open from Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. (347-527-1529) 

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