Special Noodle
(Lily Belli)
Food & Drink

Eaters Digest: Special Noodle’s Numbing and Spicy Dan Dan Noodles

Lily Belli brings you her recommendations for what to eat in Santa Cruz County, along with a weekly guide to the most important food and drink events in the area. She’ll also point you to Lookout’s growing list of area food guides and the best in food news.

Hello again! This is my first column since I took a break last March to have a baby. Now, Cecilia is a bouncing, thriving three-month-old, and I am brimming with new story ideas to bring to you, our Lookout readers. Thank you to contributing writers Jessica M. Pasko, Laura Sutherland and Ashley Spencer who have shared stories while I’ve been on parental leave, keeping you up to date on the world of Santa Cruz food.

We’ve rethought this Friday Eaters Digest column as we begin anew. It is retooled and geared to your Santa Cruz County weekends. Each week, Eaters Digest does three things for you. First, I’ll highlight a single dish or drink worth seeking out. Second, I’ll share the most important food and drink events in the area — and our growing list of area food guides on everything from farmers markets to the Corralitos wine trail. Third, I’ll catch you up on Lookout’s and other food stories that you may have missed.

And you now get Eaters Digest delivered as a free newsletter via email, as well as on our website. So you’ll now get two newsletters from me each week. Eaters Digest on Fridays and Lily Belli on Food, which I’m returning to next week, on Tuesdays. And given the holiday, you’ll get that newsletter on Monday next week. Thanks for reading!

Sign up for texts from me to get an alert the moment it’s in your inbox.

It’s good to be back!

Eat This: Dan Dan Noodles at Special Noodle

Special Noodle's Numbing and Spicy Dan Dan Noodles.
(Lily Belli)

A branch of the Bay Area chain Special Noodle opened recently on Ocean Street just south of Soquel Avenue in the space that formerly held Golden Palace Chinese, and the new menu offers far more than the usual lineup of American-Chinese classics. After several visits, I crave one dish in particular — the awkwardly but accurately named Numbing and Spicy Dan Dan Noodles ($13.99).

Dan dan noodles are a beloved Chinese dish and there are many versions out there — some swimming in chili oil and Americanized versions topped with chopped peanuts. Special Noodle offers a version that is more traditional. A bowl of long, fresh noodles comes topped with crunchy cucumber, carrots and bean sprouts and a big dollop of creamy dan dan sauce, and should be tossed together at the table.

The chewy noodles become coated in the silky, rich sauce made with sesame paste, chili oil and Szechuan peppercorns. It’s not overtly spicy, and you won’t notice the heat until several bites in, when a cool tingling creeps over your tongue and the roof of your mouth — that’s the “numbing” heat of the Szechuan peppercorns. More addictive than painful, the sensation keeps you diving back in for more. It’s a very different fire than the burning heat of a chili and I would encourage even those who consider themselves spice wimps to give it a try.

The smaller portion makes it a great dish to order if you visit Special Noodle on your own or with a small group and don’t feel like ordering the larger, sharable entrees. Although if a dozen family members or friends do want to gather for a meal, there are four large banquet tables in the dining room that can seat up to 15 people. Walk-ins are welcome.

Notably, the dumplings, bao and other mostly savory Chinese pastries are made in house. In the back of the restaurant, you can watch the able-handed team nimbly wrapping a variety of dumplings, including the popular xiao long bao, or soup dumplings filled with rich broth and pork sausage. Special Noodle offers nearly 20 kinds of dumplings on its menu — the domed, crispy-bottomed pan-fried soup dumplings, lacey snowflake dumplings and bouncy pork- or vegetable-filled steamed bao are also favorites.

415 Ocean Street, Santa Cruz. (831) 427-9205. specialnoodle-santacruz.com.

Best of the Weekend

Here, find a curated list of the best food and drink events in Santa Cruz County for the coming week. At the top, I share my picks of unmissable local happenings.

Local event phenomenon Collective Santa Cruz is back with another summer-themed bash this Saturday, July 1 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Woodhouse Brews in Santa Cruz. The Home Run Summer Slam is a ballpark-themed event with a retro car show presented by Beeline Motor Club; a curated mini-market featuring local artists; a record sale; DJ sets and ballpark-style eats and cold drinks. Tickets cost $10 and the event is open to all ages.

The Aptos Wine Wander, one of Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains’ premier wine tasting events, returns this Saturday, July 1 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Aptos. Cruise the Aptos Village and explore more than a dozen of the area’s best wineries, pouring at 11 local businesses. This is a great opportunity to try Santa Cruz Mountain wines en masse and discover wines from small wineries that may not have regular tasting room hours. Tickets are $50. This event is 21+.

This Saturday, July 1 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Colectivo Felix and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing are teaming up to celebrate the Westside brewery’s 18th birthday in the Swift Street Courtyard. Chef Diego Felix, also of Fonda Felix, will create a four-course Latin American feast paired with SCMB’s organic beers, like braised pork ribs with potatoes, melted gouda and wild sage butter paired with SCMB’s iconic Swift Street Amber ale. This event is 21+. Tickets are sold out.

Friday, June 30

Saturday, July 1

Tuesday, July 4

Can’t Miss City Guides

News from the Week

Sampa Brazilian Kitchen at Water Street and N. Branciforte Avenue in Santa Cruz.
(Jessica M. Pasko / Lookout Santa Cruz)

ICYMI – Here are the food news stories from Lookout that you may have missed, plus important news from beyond our borders picked by yours truly.

Thank you for reading!

Send me your story ideas or tips, lily@lookoutlocal.com