Warm Winter Joy at Joy Yee’s

Vegetable udon soup: a hot, bright treat for a cold, dull winter's day.

By Gulnaz Saiyed
Hapless Intern


Chicago’s weather may be unseasonably warm, but it’s still far too cold for the Southerner in me. Once the temperature drops below 50 degrees, I begin to crave hot, veggie-rich meals. This usually means a craving for Joy Yee’s Noodle Shop, which results in bundling up and hopping on the Red Line to Chinatown.


I had dragged my sister along with me, and having never been there, she was confused by the menu. It’s not immediately clear which end is the front, and even though it features several dozen pictures of drinks and dishes, as well as a text menu, not everything listed is pictured. Therefore, it is simultaneously the least user-friendly and most awesome menu I have ever seen.


After glimpsing the pictures and settling on ordering from the text menu, my sister ordered the crab rangoon and vegetable udon soup. I tried to pick something new from the picture menu, but was unconvinced by any of the images. I went with my standard warms-my-heart meal: Korean spicy fried dumplings and vegetable chow mein with crispy noodles. I actually had no idea I usually went with the vegetable chow mein – every previous time I had visited Joy Yee’s, I’d just told them I was vegetarian and wanted crunchy noodles and received this dish. The menu isn’t clear which noodles are available fried, or which options can be made vegetarian, but I’ve never been let down by the helpful servers.


The soup arrived first in a huge bowl along with an unwieldy ladle and two small bowls. My sister and I team-served two portions of the soup for one another. Although she splashed some of it on me in the process, I’m glad we shared. The wheat-flour udon noodles were thick and filling, while the broccoli, bok choy, mushrooms and carrots were cooked to tender perfection.  The soup offered no overwhelming flavors, just vegetables that, quite simply, actually tasted like the vegetables they were, in a clear, light and salty broth.


Next, my chow mein arrived, steaming hot; again, we shared. The veggies sat atop a nest of fried noodles, darkened brown around the edges and soft where they absorbed the mild but flavorful sauce.  Every bite was a bit different, a satisfying crunch here and an unflattering but tasty slurp there.  It’s not every day eating out feels healthy, but the bright orange carrots and verdant bok choy tasted fresh enough to somehow make up for short, sunshine- and vitamin D-free days.


Our appetizers – dumplings and crab rangoon – both came with the same sweet and spicy dipping sauce.  The crab rangoon tasted more seafood-like than I was accustomed to, but they were still soft, cheesy and creamy inside the fried pockets. The Korean spicy fried dumplings, meanwhile, came off as more tangy than spicy, but maintained that nice textural contrast of a solid, crispy exterior wall with a soft, chewy interior.


Although we couldn’t come close to finishing everything, the meal needed something cool and refreshing to complement it. We perused the extensive beverage menu, and decided not to go all Andrew Zimmern and order off of the “Hot Winter Drinks” section, which included “white tree fungus and lotus seed.” The cold options were extensive. Joy Yee’s offers a range of bubble teas and smoothies, with everything from iced cappuccino – thick with coffee jelly – and freshly-blended avocado and ice topped with fruit. Drinks can be made without chunks of fruit or bubble tea pearls and jellies, for those who don’t like to chew their beverages. However, I’m convinced slowing down for an orb of tapioca in the middle of a sip wards off brain freeze. So, we finished our meal with one of my summertime favorites, perhaps as a subtle reminder of warmer days ahead: a fresh mango smoothie with sticky tapioca pearls.


Joy Yee’s has four locations in and around Chicago.


2139 S. China Place
(312) 328-0001


1335 S. Halsted St.
(312) 997-2128


521 Davis St., Evanston
(847) 733-1900


1163 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville
(630) 579-6800

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