Long Beach is neither Little Saigon nor Thai Town and so its lack of fast casual soup-and-noodles-only establishments comes as no surprise. The city is, however, a college town filled with many starving students craving affordable comfort food, so it does seem a little odd that Cyclo Noodles took so long to arrive.
Taking over a former It's A Grind location in the Staples shopping center on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Ximeno, Long Beach's first Cyclo Noodles opened last year as the first of what its owner hopes will be a successful noodle chain. I discovered the somewhat hidden locale on another food-venture with Cambodia Town ambassador praCh Ly, who told me his friend (is there anyone that guy doesn't know??) started it with the intention of making Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese soups approachable to to the masses.
Though the soup assembly line (a la Chipotle) that praCh mentioned still looks a long way off, Cyclo Noodles has a simple, easy-to-navigate menu of various traditional noodle soups and a few noodle dishes from around Southeast Asia, all at under $6 each.
Since Vietnamese pho is found more often than other Asian soup options–and I have yet to see Cambodian noodle soup served in any other fast casual spot–I decided over the last few times of going there to stay on the more intriguing side of Cyclo's soups, made even easier by a friendly staff more than willing to help gabacha novices navigate through the options.
The first bowl I ordered was the Phnom Penh Noodle ($5.45), a giant helping of soup filled with every kind of cheap-to-keep-on-hand pig and sea meat imaginable from sliced pork to fish balls and crab legs. Broth for Cambodian soups differs from Vietnamese pho broth in that is is made from both beef and pork instead of just beef, giving it a slightly darker color and richer flavor. At Cyclo, it also comes with a large piece of ja-kwai twin bread, a light, fluffy Cambodian sweet bread that can be either eaten dry or (my preference) dripping with absorbed soup juices.
I've also tried Cyclo's Thai Boat Noodle, which though not the most authentic example of the dish (the traditional offset tartness is lacking in lieu of a savory nearly-brown sugar sweetness), has enough tripe, tendon and beef balls to make it worth its meager $5.75 price tag. Thai soup broth is beef broth like Vietnamese pho but with a slew of different spices (and some blood) that make it dark brown and full of latent spiciness, earning it the affectionate nickname of "pho on crack."
With flu season supposedly imminent and unreasonably cold weather making soup the daily meal of choice lately, Cyclo Noodles has been a frequent stop anytime I'm in the traffic circle area. Between its various liquid-based options and tempting vermicelli salads (try the Banh Song and load up on the Cyclo Sauce), there is no reason we won't start seeing more of these sleek bike-themed places bringing approachable Southeast Asian grub to the Western masses.
Cyclo Noodles, 4754 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 494-1230.