Jiro Ramen From Yume Wo Katare ($12)
Before you head out for this ramen, there are a few things you should know. The wait is usually long, the hours are finicky (check the website for updates), and it's cash-only. The menu is two items long: ramen with pork or ramen with more pork. You'll be asked one question by the chef in Japanese; if you want raw garlic in your soup, say yes, please; if you don't, say no, thank you (you should say yes, please). And you're eating performance is evaluated by the staff and announced to the dining room when you’re done to the tune of applause or disappointed sighs.
But the soup is worth the fuss. The massive bowl of jiro ramen contains thick, wavy, chewy housemade noodles; an insanely porky broth that's less funky than it is rich and sweet; thick slices of ultra-tender fatty pork; bean sprouts and cabbage, and that wallop of fresh garlic. Go really hungry.
Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodle Soup From Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe ($11)
Gene's strap-like hand-pulled Xi'an-style noodles are so good in their original iteration—boiled and tossed with loads of garlic, chile paste, and chile powder—that I was expecting eater's remorse when I ordered them in lamb soup.
I needn't have worried. The noodles retain every bit of their satisfying chew, and the soup itself is stunningly good. The broth looks clear and insipid, but it couldn't be more flavorful—full-on but clean-tasting lambiness laced with just enough chile oil. Beyond that, it's just tender, thin-sliced lamb and lots of fresh cilantro.
Banh Canh Cua From New Dong Khanh ($6.95)
For funky-seafood lovers only. The thick, gelatinous Vietnamese broth gets its flavor from crab, dried shrimp, and the excellent housemade fried fish cakes (they taste much better than they look). Slippery udon noodles are great for slurping.
New Dong Khanh: 81 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02111 (map); 617-426-9410
Tom Yum Noodle Soup From S&I To Go ($7.95)
The ultimate embodiment of the hot-sour-salty-sweet flavors famously tied to Thai cuisine, this rice noodle soup makes a full meal or share-able appetizer. Usually, its protein is limited to whole shrimp; I love adding in ground pork and fried tofu to soak up the heady broth. (It's even better the next day.)
Roast Pork Wonton Noodle Soup From Kantin ($5.75)
Hong Kong-style noodle soups with barbecued meats were my introduction to the genre of noodle soups as a kid. I still can't pass up a bowl of clear chicken-y broth with a tangle of egg noodles, thin skinned pork-shrimp wontons, bok choy, and salty-sweet char siu. To brighten it up, ask for a side of red vinegar.
Kantin: 1095 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215 (map); 617-562-8388
Chiang Mai Noodle Soup (Kao Soi) From Thai North ($8.25)
More stew than soup, kao soi is that brilliant combination of a coconut milk-based Thai red curry, long-cooked chicken, and both steamed and crispy-fried wheat-based egg noodles. Pickled mustard greens, thin-sliced red onion, scallions, cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice add fresh bite.
Homestyle Egg Drop Soup From Shangri-La ($7.25)
You have to dig for them in this Taiwanese buttery-rich chicken broth, but the slippery cellophane noodles are there, underneath the raft of rich brown egg omelet, shiitake mushrooms, sliced bamboo, and wilted spinach. Imported from Korea, the green bean starch threads are the springiest, slipperiest, most delicious cellophane noodles I've ever had. If I didn't know any better, I'd say they were fresh. (Note this dish is only available on the dinner menu.)