With a silly name like Kung Fu Noodle, you would expect some ass-kicking Asian food. This is not the case with the little Chinese noodle house tucked away in the corner of a strip mall on Campbell just south of Fort Lowell. Where their namesake, the noodle, is done very well, they have a lot to learn about the accouterments that are served along side them, as well as the staff that serves them.
The restaurant has little to no curb appeal in the nondescript strip mall that houses places like Hungry Howie's "Pizza", Wingstop, and a gym. (Yes there were people on treadmills literally 3 feet and a wall away from my table where I was stuffing my face, ironic) However, upon entering the place you are brought to an authentic Asian noodle house. The space is small, but does not feel crowded. The super clean room is decorated tastefully with Chinese art and lighting fixtures, just enough for feel and effect, but not overdone. The very authentic appearing clientele all hovered over huge bowls of steaming hot broth and noodles had me excited for the experience. If I had one critique of the ambiance, it was the terrible acoustical ceilings, but I am sure that comes with the territory of renting strip mall space.
My first visit was a Friday lunch with my Aunt Janice. We have a history of exploring ethnic hole in the walls, so this assignment was right up our alley. We were greeted immediately by (who I can only assume) was the owner, who was very friendly and warm, but slightly incredulous to our visit. She had asked if it was our first time, in which we replied that it was. At that point, she began to tell us that they were a noodle house, and we would not find any rice, General Tso's Chicken and the like. (In talking to her later on, I came to realize that there have been a wave of customers coming in looking for the Americanized Chinese cuisine consisting of MSG-laden corn starchy dishes of which they serve none) For our starter, we ordered the Szechwan Chili Beef. It came out quickly, but that's because it was pre-cooked and served cold. The thin slices of beef were terribly overdone to a mealy consistency. Despite the abundance of chili oil and the afterthought of tossing some cilantro on top, the only thing I could really taste was bad roast beef cold cuts.
For our lunches, I ordered the Dan Dan Noodles and my aunt had the Chinese Beef Burrito. Again, the dishes were brought to the table pretty quickly and, unlike the appetizer, there were flashes of talent in the mains. The noodles from the Dan Dan are obviously made in-house, and made well. Just enough bite to them for some texture, yet soft enough to absorb some of the flavorful sauce from the bottom of the bowl. I could slurp up these noodles and sauce all day. There was one flaw with my dish what was described as minced pork that topped the noodles, while tasty, was not a texture conducive to any pork I have had. It was hard, like rock candy hard, I'm talking pork flavored Nerds® candy. My aunt's "beef burrito" had a different beef filling than the starter, wrapped in a freshly made crepe. The beef had plenty of five spice and hoisin flavor throughout the tender meat. The crepe was amazing, fried to a perfect crunchy exterior, yet still tender and pliable with a bit of fluff on the inside. The only knock on this dish was they killed the balance by including an entire bunch of cilantro in the burrito.
On my second visit, I brought the family for dinner on a Monday evening. The restaurant was not nearly as busy when we arrived, but picked up during our dinner. We were not greeted by the friendly welcome I got on my first visit, in fact, we were not really greeted at all. Basically, the one server on the floor pointed at a table that would fit our party of four, then the waitress came to take our drink order. Kung Fu does not serve alcohol, so we decided to try a flavored tea (in our case, mango) and a couple of sodas. The tea had a great bit of fresh mango flavor, however was a bit too sweet for our liking. When the server (finally) came back to take our food order, and we had trouble trying to explain that we wanted to order starters first, then our mains, but that was due to the language barrier undoubtedly. For the apps, we decided on Jalapeño Chicken Feet, Cucumber Salad, potstickers and spicy pork wontons. My eldest son and I were the only ones brave enough to try the chicken feet. We did not enjoy them, but having nothing to compare them to, it could just be our tastes. I will say there was no sign of jalapeño in the dish. The potstickers and wontons were well executed. Again, you could tell that the wrappers were house made and fresh, and the filling had a good flavor of pork, cabbage and herbs. The sauce that accompanied the spicy wontons was fairly spicy, with a hint of sweetness. The cucumber salad was meek, huge chunks of skin-on cucumber with a faint hint of dressing consisting of sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and garlic.
For our mains we ordered the Kung Fu Beef Noodle Bowl and the Chef's Spicy Noodle Bowl to share. Déjà vu, in a couple of ways. The signature Kung Fu dish again had great noodles piled high in the large bowl, with a hot (in spice and temperature) broth and an assortment of vegetables. The broth was flavorful, but way too greasy. The beef in this beef dish was really where the problem arose. It was not any cut of beef that I could identify (and I know my way around a cow). In fact the only thing it resembled was a small bat wing, however, I realize that was not what it actually was. Again, it had that stale roast beef flavor to it. The Chef's Spicy Noodle Bowl was a mirror image of the Dan Dan Noodle Bowl I had for lunch, only with the addition of julienned cucumber. It was by far the best dish of the night, even with the reappearance of the pork Nerds®.
Service on this dinner trip was horrendous, especially given the great conversation and service from my lunch visit. Not once were we offered a refill on any of the drinks or were we checked on after food arrived. In fact, one of my biggest pet peeves in service occurred when not one single dish from our four appetizers was bussed from the table until we had left for the evening. The young lady server was fairly busy towards the end of our visit and there was a language barrier, however, I have worked in restaurants and understand a busy service, so I made adjustments for all of those variables, and it was still unacceptably bad.
I really do like the fact that Kung Fu Noodle takes pride in their noodles and dumplings and make them fresh daily, and it shows in those components. However, I just wish they paid more loving attention to the rest of their ingredients/dishes. Same goes with the atmosphere; if they could get the service to a level nearing the decor, they could be on the right track. However, as of now, they need some serious work. I will not be dining on those great noodles until they can piece together a dish around them that warrants a visit.