In homage to family-owned restaurants — like his parents’ pho restaurant in Danbury, CT — Tony Pham named Mecha Noodle Bar after the Vietnamese words “mẹ” and “cha,” or in English, mom and pop. Mecha extends beyond home cooking, though, in its rich integration of flavors from Asian comfort cuisine with a compact, modern design and throwback hip-hop ambiance. Not “fusion,” as their website insists, Mecha is “American-Vietnamese-Japanese-Thai-Chinese-Korean-New England-Momofuku-Totto-and-Ippudo-inspired.”
Designwise, Mecha on Crown Street incorporates an abundance of wooden slats, fixed vertically along the walls and railings. Seating is first come, first served; the floor is split between the bar, a long shared dining table and individual tables with steel stools. Elaborating on the space, Maruzella, one of Mecha’s managers, explained that Tony and his co-founder, Richard Reyes, chose to work with the motif of wood and steel to honor the blue-collar worker. Moreover, the lines of yellow planks evoke Mecha’s signature dish: ramen noodles.
The first time I ate here, however, I ordered the pho ga, a classic Vietnamese chicken noodle soup (or the “Hangover Cure,” as the menu points out). I sat at the communal table, elbow-to-elbow with another party of three. The hostess had slipped me, a solo diner, in past an impressive queue that spilled out into the street — I’m told it’s often that busy.
The broth of the pho was crisp and savory; flat rice noodles contrast the bite of spring and red onions and provide fodder for slurping, which is welcome and even encouraged at Mecha. A generous helping of cilantro and bean sprouts on the side rounds out the bowl with a clean crunch to accompany the thin slices of chicken. I personally had expected the soup to be lighter, and I found it salty to the point that water was necessary on the side.
As for ramen, Mecha’s tonkotsu offers sweet and salty marinated pork belly, half of a soft-boiled egg over firm and springy noodles and a robust pork broth with green onions to garnish. Whereas I enjoyed the combination of textures in the pho ga, I found that the tonkotsu brings a stronger flavor profile, especially with its bone broth-soaked noodles and a hint of firmness at the core.
In my second visit to Mecha Noodle Bar, I spoke to Maruzella more about the restaurant. My co-columnist, Kofi, joined me at a high table by the front window. Where I had to ask for a first refill of water my last visit (after already finishing my meal), this time our server attended to us frequently. Granted, the restaurant was less busy at this hour.
A highlight at Mecha is their happy hour specials (Monday-Friday, 3–6 p.m.). For a meager $3, you can order two Korean fried chicken or barbeque pork belly baos. Kofi and I had both, and the pork belly version seems to draw inspiration from hongshaorou, a traditional Chinese delicacy. Both roasted pork and fried chicken alike were enveloped in a glutinous rice bun with carrot and cucumber salad, chili sauce and homemade Kewpie mayo. I liked the consistency of the soft bun. Stuffing the mini sandwiches into our mouths, Kofi and I decided we would highly recommend these starters, especially at their happy hour prices.
Overall, I appreciate the concept of Mecha Noodle Bar here in New Haven. It simultaneously conveys classic Asian comfort foods while appealing to urban East Coast sensibilities. Even while Biggie blasts over the speakers, I’m reminded of the bowls of wonton soup I enjoyed with my grandmother in Kowloon, stooped over small plastic stools and slurping fresh egg noodles. And if Mecha’s flavors are sometimes a bit exaggerated, they are no less delicious, rooted in tradition and executed with elegance.
Brandon Liu | email@example.com