Aug. 1 2007 12:00 AM

Asian noodles bring a delicious chill to hot weather


I am almost never without an appetite, but it does actually dampen a bit on super-hot days like the ones we've recently experienced. Blaring sun and sticky humidity don't exactly jibe with tucking into a hearty meal, and lately even the thought of sitting over a steaming plate of food sets me to perspiring. Still, a girl's gotta eat. So, when I'm craving chow that will satisfy but won't fuel the fire within, I hit up one of my favorite Asian restaurants for delicious cold noodle dishes that'll help cool me off from the inside out with every refreshing mouthful.

Sakura on Convoy serves stellar sushi, another variety of excellent hot-weather food, but during the summer months it also offers Hiyashi Chuuka, a one-bowl meal of cool, springy ramen noodles covered in a sweet sesame-soy dressing. The tangle of noodles sits in a shallow pool of sauce and underneath a variety of toppings. My most recent bowl held sliced chicken, seaweed salad, cucumber, corn and strips of egg omelet. Bright red shreds of pickled ginger and a dab of nose-tingling yellow mustard added flavor and color. The temperature inside the restaurant can be stifling on warm days, so ask to sit at one of the folding tables outside. Looking onto the strip-mall parking lot isn't very relaxing, but just chill out with a glass of unsweetened green tea and wait for your bowl of relief to arrive. 3904 Convoy St. in Kearny Mesa. 858-569-6151.

Vietnam's humid climate no doubt spawned the creation of Bun with Nuoc Cham, a chilled rice vermicelli salad tossed with shredded lettuce, mint leaves and bean sprouts. This fresh and perfect summer meal comes with a light but flavor-packed dressing, made with savory fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and sugar, which all come on the side so you can drizzle on as much as you like. The version of this noodle salad that I order most frequently comes topped with fried eggs rolls and tender char-grilled pork. These dishes are on the menu at many Vietnamese restaurants, but one of the best is the clean and spacious Phuong Trang Restaurant, where the service is so lightning-fast that you'll be in and out before your boss even realizes that you've left the office. 4170 Convoy St. in Kearny Mesa. 858-565-6750.

Buga Korean BBQ Restaurant features a grill on every table, but on sweltering days they're left off in favor of dining on Naeng Myun, a bracing, almost icy-cold savory beef broth mixed with tangy kimchi juice that seasons a seemingly bottomless bowl of buckwheat noodles. For ease of eating, the friendly servers use scissors to snip the heap of chewy, nutty noodles into more manageable bundles. The soup is garnished with slices of beef brisket and paper-thin slivers of cucumber and crunchy Asian pear and will no doubt help lower your core temperature. If all that weren't delicious enough, the noodle soup also comes with an array of tiny side dishes called Banchan that include sesame-oil-infused bean sprouts, soy-sauced tofu, pickled radishes and much more. 5580 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. in Kearny Mesa. 858-560-1010.

And, finally, very tasty proof-positive that cold food is neither bland nor boring: Sometimes the flavors of chilled dishes can be muted or one-dimensional, but my ultimate summertime noodle favorite is anything but. Ba Ren Chinese Restaurant serves Sichuan Spicy Noodles that put pasta salad to shame. Tender egg noodles are topped with a fiery and flavorful dried chili peppers, sesame and chili oil, vinegar, sugar, preserved vegetables and chopped garlic and scallions. Although the spice factor of these noodles might raise a sweat, it's nigh impossible to stop eating them-and I guarantee you'll be cooler, or at least more invigorated, after a bowl full. The restaurant also offers a selection of cold appetizers, some a bit exotic, but I particularly like the soybean and mustard greens mix, the skinny marinated bamboo shoots and the crunchy seaweed salad. 4957 Diane Ave. in Clairemont. 858-279-2520.

Even though I grumble sometimes about the summer heat, I actually don't really mind it. After all, it's noodle weather!

 

Write to candicew@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.

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