I was driving around Convoy a few weeks back and noticed something about this sign.
And looking at the photos posted told me this wasn't the Noodle Hut I knew.
And then the electric sign scrolled down...….
Revealing "Hunan Kitchen". I took the photo home and the Missus translated it to Tǔjiā Xiāng Cài, basically Tujia Hunan Cuisine. Still, the addition of "Kitchen" to the name made me wonder...…
And so, having some time for an actual lunch a few days later, Calvin and I hit up Hunan Kitchen a.k.a. Noodle Hut.
We were the first folks in the place. The same wood paneling and tables as the old Noodle Hut, but with signs of various dishes on the menu and of course, some chili pepper décor.
I instantly thought of Village Kitchen when I saw this on the menu.
This was going to be an interesting meal...….
First to arrive was the La Rou, Hunan Smoked Pork with Dried Radish.
The La Rou was a bit tougher, less smokey, but definitely spicier than VK's version. The dried radish was crunchy, but not hard and the dish wasn't too salty. I thought this was better than the version at VK.
And then, this.
So, think about the signature eggplant, preserved egg, and green chili dish at VK. Without the eggplant. The peppers were fairly tender and there was a large amount of pidan in this. It was also pretty darn spicy. The portion size of this dish was also deceptively large. We enjoyed it and it was the best dish of the day by far, but man, there was no way we could keep on eating this. I think my Hunan Chilli King days are behind me. Even the Missus thought this was quite spicy....though She had it the next day, when it was even hotter.
The Cumin Lamb was so-so.
Calvin's wife can't stand lamb so just about the only time he gets to eat it is with me. Too little cumin, in need of more onion and cilantro, though the lamb was tender enough. And strangely, for once, I wished the dish was more salty. I'd have loved a bit more color on the lamb as well.
Calvin was fascinated by the Baby Cuttlefish with Four Chilies.
This was quite one-dimensional in flavor. Yes, it was fairly spicy, but other than that, not much else to say. The cuttlefish was very rubbery and had no flavor. This was bean sprout city.....
The service was typical and we ended up with a bunch of leftovers.
A few weeks later we were both craving that century egg and green chili dish. So we returned. This time; I did all the ordering.
Starting with a favorite of the Missus; the Steamed Preserved Meat.
Usually, it's smoked pork, duck, and fish. Here it was pork, duck, and chicken, which made me wonder how dry this was going to be. It was however, quite good, very smoky, nice textures, chewy, but not tough. While not among the best version of this I've had, it was a notch above decent. The Missus loved the leftovers.
Of course, there was one basic reason we returned to Hunan Kitchen. The Pounded green Chilies and Century Egg. If anything, this was even better than on our previous visit.
Oh, and perhaps even more spicy. Man, I had the leftovers two days later and it was pretty darn hot.
Still, I think this dish is a winner, spicy, yes, but the texture of the preserved egg, the dish was nicely seasoned both times we had it. Typing this out makes me want it again. You get that nice endorphin high. Like I said....my tolerance must be pretty low these days.
We finished with the Mao Style Pork in Brown Sauce.
This was a decent, but not outstanding dish. This version of Hong Shao Rou was a bit lacking in complexity of flavor (no anise) and the pork was bit tough. It also lacked that nice glistening color I love in other versions of this dish. While I though it wasn't too spicy, eating the leftovers two days later had increased the intensity of the heat.
While not everything at Hunan Kitchen was a "keeper"; I actually enjoy the more rustic preparations and flavors here more than VK. As does the Missus....whose Father is from Hunan province and really enjoys more traditional, earthy preparations of Xiāng Cài. Still, while I'm thinking we need to head on back to the SGV for our Hunan fix; we'll be dropping by whatever the name of this place is once in a while.
Hunan Kitchen a.k.a. Noodle Hut a.k.a. Tǔjiā Xiāng Cài (土家湘菜)
4690 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
And, if you're keeping score; back in 2011 this was Nam An, in 2014 Yunnan food was served at Jin's Pot, in 2015 Xi'an Kitchen, then in 2017 Noodle Hut, and now this place. Let's see if they have a bit more staying power.