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Hitting the refresh button at 99 Ranch.

Image: Alice Levitt

We all get the sads sometimes, just ask Michael Stipe. Being alone in a new city will do that pretty effectively, but fortunately, the cause and cure are the same. I needed to get out and enjoy Houston. It started with a trip to my official happy place, 99 Ranch Market. I'd hoped to have dinner there, but by the time the long wait for my cucumber-watermelon juice at the stand above was over, the food court dim sum and barbecue spots were sold out. 

Time to explore the Koreatown outside of my beloved 99 Ranch and H-Mart. Since I was alone, most Korean barbecue places wouldn't have let me grill my own meat, so bulgogi was out of the picture. Or so I thought.

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If you've watched as many Korean soaps on Netflix as I have, you'll recognize the people on the posters.

Image: Alice Levitt

I happened upon a little yellow house just off of Long Point Road. The former residence has a sign, "Korean Noodle House," but otherwise still looks pretty much like mom and dad are going to come downstairs at any moment. Home cooking is indeed the theme at the neighborhood spot. And it's not just any home-spun fare on offer, but hand-cut noodles. Few culinary buzzwords translate more directly to "made with love."

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Kimchi, gratis.

Image: Alice Levitt

Before I could order, a server brought out a mug filled with a family-sized portion of kimchi. It was the real deal, fermented so long that the edges of the leaves had turned a brownish gray. The heat was real, too, but the funk was realer, despite a bit more sweetness that I usually expect. It would have been a pickle for the ages if not for an excess of scallions, which made whole mouthfuls taste like nothing but onion.

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Bulgogi stirred noodle, $11.

Image: Alice Levitt

The hand-cut noodles appear mostly in soups, with fillings ranging from kimchi to clams. But when I'm trying a noodle, I prefer to test how it holds up in a dry dish. In the case of the "bulgogi stirred noodle," the answer is very well indeed.

The stretchy wheat noodles reminded me of a delicate, thin udon. The dish itself was so cuddly that I defy any picky American eater to take issue with it. Basically japchae but prepared with wheat noodles instead of yam ones, the sesame, soy and sugar sauce can make anyone feel a little happier. But the shreds of bulgogi were so pillowy soft and ginger-tinged that they made the dish. The carrots, cabbage and onions had just the right amount of give to remind me that the plate had some nutritional assets, too. 

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Tteokbokki (or rice cake, vegetables in pepper paste), $8

Image: Alice Levitt

I also couldn't resist pushing my carb count further with an order of tteokbokki, one of my standard barometers of Korean dining. The verdict: Damn fine. The soft, chewy rice cakes were cut a little bit long, making them messy to eat, but no complaints, otherwise. Slick yam noodles and floppy fish cakes combined in the gochujang-based hot sauce with the same crisp veggies I'd enjoyed in the bulgogi noodles. 

Of course, the best part of over-ordering is leftovers, and I'll be munching my way through those spicy rice cakes for a couple more meals. And that means a solution for the sads at least twice more this week.

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