Chilled ramen noodles and a fried egg. All photos: Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Pork and shrimp wontons.
Korean pork tacos.
“Kung pow” wings.
A sign of good eats.
You ready to chow down and rock out to some ’90s hip-hop? Because that’s what you’re going to be doing at ~CHUBBY NOODLE MARINA~. This 49-seat spot is a brick-and-mortar version of the permanent Chubby Noodle pop-up inside Amante in North Beach (although the menu at the Marina location is an expanded offering with different dishes). Chef-owner Pete Mrabe has built quite a name for himself in North Beach: he opened Don Pisto’s first, a love letter to the food of Baja, and recently opened Pisto’s, which is primarily focused on street-style tacos. He’s known for bringing the party, and with co-owner Nick Floulis, he’s doing just that in this corner in the Marina.
Pete’s menu and flavor profiles span a lot of cuisines: Mandarin, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and hey, you’ll find some tortillas on there too. It’s not fusion, it’s more a study in freestyle deliciousness. It’s food that’s fun to eat, with Big Flava and the rest of his gang: fat, salt, spice, and sugar. Pete is a total tinkerer—he’s constantly fine-tuning, changing, and tweaking dishes, which means you’ll always find something getting rotated in or off the menu, so don’t get toooo attached to anything.
A great place to start is the chilled handmade ramen noodles ($10): he slicks the noodles in a thicker version of a Korean salad dressing, surrounding them with housemade kimchi, bean sprouts, chopped scallions, and pickles, and tops them with a fried egg—mix it all up and you’ve got a stone-cold winner. Pete is also known for his spicy garlic noodles ($9), which feature plump housemade egg noodles coated with a garlicky (and spicy) sauce that has a little kiss from the wok. I have watched him make the garlic sauce before and it’s well engineered. He’s just really good at sauces, period.
Since we’re talking noodles, you’ll also want the chile prawn noodles ($13), slippery chow fun noodles topped with exquisite prawns that are seared just so, with a coconut milk sauce with lemongrass, fresh and dry chiles, kaffir lime, plus a hit of Thai basil and a flurry of fried shallots. Finish it a squirt of lime and the dish sings.
Pete sources excellent seafood: his salt and pepper prawns ($14) come from Jimmy Galle of Gulfish, and the gulf flounder ($17) is a can’t-miss if it’s on the menu, the tender fillets presented in a clay pot with a zippy dressing of black bean and ginger that ferments in fish sauce and lime, plus scallion, fresh chiles, and shiitakes. He has perfected his crowd-pleasing tuna poke ($13) over the years, which you’ll scoop up in colorful shrimp chips.
It’s kind of impossible to pass up pork and shrimp wontons ($9), and the ones made here are really meaty, with a buzz from the spicy soy (and rice vinegar). Whatever you do, you have to get the barbecue pork fried rice ($8)—it’s loaded with some of the best caramelized chashu pork I’ve had (Pete sources it from Hing Lung in Chinatown).
The juicy kung pow wings ($8) live up to their name, with perfect heat and smokiness from the arbol chile and sambal, and a touch of acidity from the vinegars he uses. It’s like you took the sauce from the best Chinese kung pao ever—full of golden onion and garlic—and tossed some wings around in the takeout box. Voilà!
One of my favorite mash-ups, such a Pete original, would be the Korean pork tacos ($9 for two), served in a blistered housemade flour tortilla, topped with yogurt-chile sauce. The light char on the marinated meat makes you think you’re at a Korean barbecue place. I could easily house three of them, they’re insanely good tacos. It reminds me of when you get to the bottom of a really good shawarma, with the meat, spicy oils, yogurt, and lavash all coming together in the best damn bite. (The inspiration was actually from a Korean pork and roti roll-up he would concoct at family meal while he was working at Betelnut.)
Larger meaty options include the Cambodian beef ($24), a prime Angus rib-eye that is exquisitely tender, with a shaking beef flavor profile, full of mint and fresh herbs, plus hints of fish sauce, soy, and lemongrass. The Mongolian lamb ($18) hits it out of the park because you almost never find lamb this tender and good—it’s like lamb cheek, it’s that delicate.
There’s no dessert on the menu, which I think is a missed opportunity, but you can walk a couple of blocks over for an ice cream at Over the Moon (2144 Chestnut St.).
When you walk in, there’s a small bar at the front, which is where more and more people will be hanging out as the night goes on (the seats are in ideal proximity to all the taps of wine, sake, and “cold tea”). The cold tea is an invention by Nick, who created a blend of nigori sake, Jardesca (a new wine-based California aperitif), ginger and serrano, honey, and jasmine and mint tea, with a sprig of mint. It’ll get ya. They serve it in a teapot ($42), or individually ($8) in some of the most fun teacups I have seen in a while. The wine list is mostly made up of California wines, and the Iron Horse rosé is a good one to pair with a lot of the dishes.
There are high-top communal tables near the open kitchen, though I prefer the booths that run along the windows. The food and cozy layout are ideal for groups and sharing. The servers are incredibly friendly—it feels like family here (which is why you won’t mind if they forget your knife, or other small things like that; their kindness makes up for any inexperience). The vibe is definitely youthful and energetic, so don’t say I didn’t warn you about the decibels. I love that it’s open until 12:30am nightly, especially since it’s exactly the food you want after you’ve had a few cocktails. But hey, partier, pay attention to this: it can be a little tricky to find since there isn’t really a sign. Just look for the sign of a Gumby-looking noodle kickin’ it in a bowl.
This review was based on two visits.