by Sophia Hsu

Photos by Amit Chaffee

It is a lazy Sunday afternoon in the East Village. Some shops are just starting to set up, still recovering from Saturday’s shenanigans. As I turn onto the block, I search for a clear indication as to the restaurant’s location, but there is not. A single, intricate red paper cutout with the Chinese character fú for good fortune/luck catches my eye before I see Ho Foods in gold and backwards on the propped glass door. A head pops out of the basement egress, and I introduce myself to Richard Ho, the owner and proprietor of Ho Foods.

We chat on the sidewalk for a bit, Rich half in the basement. He ushers us inside for a tour, joking that he could probably give us the whole tour of the place right there from the sidewalk because, well, it is a typical New York City storefront, tiny with every inch of ceiling to floor space maximized. The seating area is clean and minimalist to give customers the most space for elbow room. A handful of sepia-toned photos accent the space along with a letter board exclaiming, “Ho-Me is where the noods are.” We sit down and chat about his background, his motivation, exchanging stories about growing up Taiwanese-American East versus West Coast, and the future of Ho Foods.

Growing up in SoCal, Rich was surrounded by good Asian food at home and outside. We talk about Taiwan, my recent trip back to see family, and the new food fads we tried at the night markets. While my food nostalgia lies in the numerous Taiwanese breakfast options, the dish that Rich’s mom made the most growing up was Taiwanese style “red-cooked” beef noodle soup (hóngshāo niúròumiàn) and is probably his most nostalgic taste memory. Banking on a mix of this nostalgia and a lot on the outstanding quality of his product, Rich decided to open his own storefront. He never imagined that so many Taiwanese and Taiwanese-Americans lived in NYC, but as soon as 5PM rolled around, the restaurant is packed with Mandarin-speakers with more waiting outside.

“Red-cooked” beef noodle soup is one of Taiwan’s national dishes. Directly translated, hóngshāo is “red-cooked/braised”, but the method is really searing then braising and slow-simmering for maximum, harmonious flavor. It takes up to two full days of preparation but only mere minutes to assemble; the slow food movement meets fast food efficiency. Ho Foods uses their own proprietary blend of Eastern medicinal herbs for the broth, always pasture-raised shin (shank) meat for the beef, and locally-sourced noodles to create a beautifully steamy bowl of layered textures and flavors with just a hint of nostalgia. This is not your mom’s beef noodle soup, but it does give you a hug from the inside out. You can curate your bowl by choosing the type of noodles, level of richness and spiciness, extra meat, add some beef tendon, or just the soup. That’s right. You can order JUST the soup. Usually, you don’t feel guilty when you can’t finish the broth for most noodle soups, but the broth is SO perfectly balanced, you feel compelled not only to finish the broth but also figure out how you can fit your face in the bowl to lick it clean. The side dishes are also just as well-balanced between taste and texture, and Rich continues to expand the menu and is toying with the idea of adding Taiwanese style breakfast options in the future.

Check out Ho Foods (hofoodsnyc.com) at 110 East 7th Street. Tuesday through Sunday from 5PM – 10PM.  Richard is there every day. Tip: Sundays are the busiest.