NOT A "CUP NOODLE"

I’ll have to ask the owners how they came up with their restaurant’s name the next time I’m at Joy Cup Noodles Mean. Although the phrase “cup noodle” evokes thoughts of dried flash-fried blocks of crinkly noodles in a styrofoam cup, you won’t find any of that here. What you will find are some great bowls of noodles prepared in a style that is growing in popularity around the world, but is still relatively uncommon in Hawaii.

CHONGQING NOODLES

Similar to Mian Taste (one of our favorite spots for noodles right now), Joy Cup Noodles Mean focuses on the Chongqing style of noodles. This subset of Sichuan-style cuisine places less emphasis on deriving flavor from a soup base, instead relying more heavily on direct seasoning and spices. This can be seen in the use of ingredients like chili oil, peppercorns, ginger, coriander, black vinegar, and peanuts. Unlike Mian Taste, Joy Cup Noodles Mean doesn’t immediately start you off at a sweat-inducing level of spiciness. You can select your desired level of heat on a scale of 1 to 14. As someone who enjoys a little spiciness, but wants to enjoy the nuanced flavors of any given dish, I appreciated being able to select this up front.

Pot stickers at Joy Cup Noodles Mean
Pot stickers

Before slurping up some noodles I wanted to try a few of the side dishes, starting with these pot stickers. Nothing fancy or outlandish, but sometimes that’s exactly what dumplings should be. Served with a mildly spicy soy dipping sauce, the pot stickers were tasty and the wrappers were cooked perfectly. The filling-to-wrapper ratio was just right for my liking.

Cucumber salad at Joy Cup Noodles Mean
Cucumber salad

I’m not sure if it’s in my head or if there is in fact some larger trend at play, but it seems to me many restaurants are offering cucumber-centric side dishes these days. The cucumber salad at Joy Cup Noodles Mean is a departure from your typical pickled and/or chili cucumber. The sauce does have a tinge of vinegar to it, balanced by a more substantial nutty peanut flavor.

Dan Dan Noodles with ground pork and 21 other ingredients (no soup)

On to the noodles! First up I tried the dan dan noodles, a broth-less dish with over 21 ingredients. The sauce base is comprised of chili oil and the same peanut-like sauce in the cucumber salad. There are a lot of elements and flavors in this bowl. Peanuts and sesame seeds provide some textural contrasts, while the shiitake, pork, and sauces envelop the palate with savory notes. The noodles are just slightly softer than al dente, but are firm enough to hang on to all of the flavors and myriad of ingredients.

Beef noodle at Joy Cup Noodles Mean
Beef Noodles with cubed beef and been bone soup

My tastes have always favored noodle soups; so I wasn’t surprised to find I was partial to this dish over the dan dan noodles. The broth is light, but has a depth of flavor developed from the use of beef bones. The meat was tender and held its own fair amount of flavor. Again the noodles were just a touch softer than al dente, but still held up well in the hot soup. The combination of flavors, depth of the bone broth, and the mild heat of chili would make this a great rainy day bowl of noodles.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

The food at Joy Cup Noodles Mean is definitely flavorful. There are a lot of nuanced tastes to be had in each bowl of noodles, in large part due to the wide range of ingredients used to prepare them. Although a lot goes into each bowl, there is still a level of comfort and homeyness that makes the food here very approachable, even for the uninitiated.

The homey feeling of the food ties in with the casual feel of the restaurant. The atmosphere feels comfortable and relaxed, although could benefit from dialing back on the florescent lighting. Service was fast and efficient. Our server did his best to chat with us, but the language barrier could make this difficult for some.

Value for the dollar is an interesting consideration, at least in my mind. Joy Cup Noodles Mean is priced a bit higher than Mian Taste (the closest restaurant comparison I’m aware of). However, I do feel that this price variance is justified given the noodles at Joy Cup Noodles Mean have a lot more going on in terms of variety of ingredients and complexity.

SCORECARD

Food 90/ 100
Service 80/ 100
Atmosphere 75/ 100
Price Value 85/ 100
Overall Score 84/ 100

Joy Cup Noodles Mean
1608 Kalakaua Ave
Honolulu, HI 96826
Ph: 808.725.2898
https://noodlesmean.com/