These San Francisco-style Vietnamese garlic noodles, originally made popular at Thanh Long, are an easy, satisfying stir-fry dish made with plenty of garlic, pasta, fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, butter, and Parmesan cheese.
The garlic noodles on their own are extraordinarily simple and delicious, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fancy them up a bit. They go very well with seafood, and some raw, shell-on shrimp stir-fried along with the garlic right from the start would be an excellent addition.
Recently I’ve taken to adding a few spoonfuls of tarako or mentaiko—Japanese salted pollock roe. Sushi-style flying fish roe (tobiko) or salmon roe (ikura) would also be a great addition, as would chunks of crab or lobster meat, or even Western-style caviar (if you’re feeling flush).–Kenji López-Alt
Vietnamese Garlic Noodles FAQs
What is an alternative for a mortar and pestle?
For soft ingredients such as garlic cloves, place your peeled garlic onto a cutting board and smash it with the bottom of a sturdy coffee mug or other weighty, flat-bottomed object. A coffee grinder works wonders if you’re dealing with dry, hard ingredients like peppercorns.
Does oyster sauce contain shellfish?
Yep, unless you can source a vegetarian version. Oyster sauce typically contains oysters, water, salt, sugar, corn starch, wheat flour, and some coloring. Vegetarian versions are available online and at local markets – and instead of oysters, they’re made with soybeans, brown sugar, and mushrooms.
Why does fish sauce smell so bad?
Fish sauce is made from sardines that are fermented in salt for anywhere from 3 to 12 months. After that, the liquid produced during the fermentation process is extracted. That’s fish sauce. It’s stinky, fermented fish. Don’t let the odor put you off – the taste is out of this world, and it makes a huge difference in recipes.
Can I use a different type of noodle in this recipe?
Yes. Vietnamese garlic noodles are often made with chow mein or other Asian types of noodles.
In this recipe
San Francisco-Style Vietnamese Garlic Noodles
- 1 pound dry spaghetti
- 4 tablespoons (2 oz) unsalted butter
- 20 medium garlic cloves minced or smashed in a mortar and pestle
- 4 teaspoons oyster sauce
- 2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce or shoyu
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 ounce grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
- Thinly sliced scallions (optional)
- In a 12-inch (30-cm) skillet, bring 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) of water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta, stir a few times to make sure it’s not clumping, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente (about 2 minutes short of the recommended cook time on the package).
- While the noodles are cooking, melt the butter in a wok or saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and fish sauce and stir to combine. Remove from the heat.
☞TESTER TIP: If you choose to add shrimp, as suggested in the headnote, stir-fry them with the garlic. This may increase the cooking time by a minute or two.
- Using tongs, transfer the cooked pasta to the garlic sauce, along with whatever water clings to it. Increase the heat to high, add the cheese to the wok, and stir and toss vigorously until the sauce is creamy and emulsified, about 30 seconds. (If the sauce looks too watery, let it keep reducing. If it looks greasy, splash some more cooking water into it and let it re-emulsify.)
- Stir in the scallions, if using, and serve immediately.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I loved this San Francisco-style Vietnamese garlic noodle recipe for its spectacular flavor and adaptability. As a bonus, it came together in no time with everyday ingredients and minimal fuss. This is comfort food at its best!
The garlic flavor is just right here, so don’t be alarmed at the huge amount called for. I made the recipe as written with the optional shrimp and scallions, though I did use regular soy sauce in place of reduced sodium. Since there were only two of us, I divided everything in half to go with half a pound of spaghetti.
My only concern was that it was a tad dry and could have used a bit more sauce. Next time I will increase the sauce ingredients by half as much again.
As delicious and fragrant as these noodles are, you will want some color on your plate. I sprinkled the green onions on top and served them alongside some steamed asparagus.
San Francisco is well known for so many delicious and iconic foods, and this is a simple one to make at home. The ingredients include several great Asian refrigerator pantry items which create a luscious umami sauce. Soy sauce and fish sauce have a long shelf life in the refrigerator and bring wonderful flavor to your dishes.
These noodles complement any seafood protein like crab or shrimp. We opted to top it with salmon roe and served it with Char Siu roast pork that baked when the noodles were prepared. If you are close to Chinatown, they have some of the best Char Sui typically displayed in the storefront windows.
The cooking process for the noodles in a shallow amount of water intensifies the pasta water to help bind the sauce to the noodles and keeps the Asian tradition of long noodles intact.
The garlic is key to the sauce. It took just over 1 head of garlic and had I used the produce scale, I wouldn’t have purchased three heads. The good news is it freezes well, so I chopped and portioned into 1 teaspoon mounds that will be used for future recipes.
This Vietnamese garlic noodles recipe did not disappoint. The Asian seasonings gave the dish subtle complexity while the cheese and the French techniques provided creamy rich textures.
I served the noodles with shrimp that I marinated in the same flavors and a simple salad with vinaigrette dressing. This proved to be a great choice. The shrimp added its meaty texture and paired well with the seasonings. The vinaigrette provided the acid to balance the buttery noodles.
I could eat these San Francisco-style Vietnamese garlic noodles every day and never get tired of them. They hit all my favorite flavor notes: sweet, salty, funky, and, most of all, umami. And garlic, my beloved garlic! I love recipes that aren’t afraid to floor it on the garlic.
And the sauce comes together in less time than it takes to boil pasta! We topped our noodles with green onions and paired them with a crisp but fruity Sauvignon Blanc.
Leftovers were great with a little sautéed garlic shrimp one day, and with leftover chicken and broccoli another. Endlessly versatile, endlessly crave-able.
WOW. What a dish. I came home late one night last week and didn’t want to order in and basically “didn’t have any ingredients” in the kitchen. Well, except these.
I was tired too, so the appeal of this recipe was the minimal prep AND the minimal ingredient list. This came together so quickly – so fast that I didn’t have time to think about what to serve with it – ended up having a cold beer with a plate of noodles and it was just perfect for that day! I think it does lend itself to some greens, shrimp, or chicken, and I will keep this recipe in my back pocket for another time.
I was planning on making a baked lemon garlic fish with a few veg on the side and then this recipe popped up on the radar. I thought that a nice, garlic noodle would pair well with the fish as a nice alternative to a potato. We were not disappointed as this is a umami bomb of flavor.
I only had angel air in the pantry, but it worked wonderfully as an alternative to regular spaghetti, for each thin strand was delicately and deliciously coated with the garlic sauce. And one should not fear the cheese, as it adds a subtle sharpness to offset the sweetness of the garlic. This is a recipe that will be enjoyed frequently in our household, and we are looking forward to experimenting with alternate proteins to accompany this wonderful noodle recipe.
Originally published July 21, 2022