Vietnamese Garlic Noodles, or Mì Xào Tỏi, are the ultimate side dish! Plump chewy noodles are coated in a buttery, garlicky, umami-rich sauce that enhances any dish it's paired with. It's a crowd favorite for a reason!
🧄 Where Did Garlic Noodles Originate?
Visit any Vietnamese fusion restaurant and you're guaranteed to find Garlic Noodles on the menu. But truthfully, it's not a traditional Vietnamese dish at all but instead, a totally fusion Vietnamese-American concept.
Chef Helene An of Thanh Long in San Francisco is credited with the creation of this tasty pasta. After immigrating from Vietnam, she visited an Italian restaurant in North Beach and was disappointed with her bland garlic spaghetti. She decided to make her own version by infusing Asian flavors and voilà: Vietnamese Garlic Noodles was born. It's best served with seafood (like Thanh Long's famous baked Dungeness crab or Garlic Butter Shrimp) but it's so delicious that you can enjoy it with anything.
Growing up in Little Saigon and now living in San Francisco, I've had my fair share of Asian garlic noodles. The best ones have thick chewy noodles with a prominent garlic flavor, a little sweetness, and a subtle umami that makes you keep going back for more. This recipe has it all and it's unbelievably quick and easy! Serve it with a Vietnamese omelet for breakfast or double the recipe for a party or potluck. There isn't anything this Asian pasta can't do!
Why You'll Love It
- Flavorful: Garlic pasta sounds deceivingly simple, but to get the most out of this dish we'll amp it up with plenty of umami bombs. The end result? A salty, rich, and addictive pasta.
- Quick: This recipe only takes 30 minutes and involves very little prep! Great for an easy weeknight lunch or dinner.
- Pantry staples: 9 ingredients may seem like a lot but most of them are pantry pulls. And if you cook a lot of Asian food, they're all must-haves!
- Yellow noodles: The type of noodles you use will have the biggest impact on this recipe. The restaurants usually use larger wheat/egg noodles, so I recommend lo mein which is thicker than chow mein. Refrigerated, pre-cooked noodles are also best for chewy texture and quick cooking. I use Twin Marquis yellow noodles that I purchase from the Asian supermarket.
- Butter: I use less than most recipes to avoid a slick, greasy pasta. I also recommend unsalted butter since the condiments are salty already.
- Garlic: The star of this dish! I've used up to 20 cloves because why not? Use a garlic press to make your life easier.
- Soy sauce: Adds salt and umami. I recommend low-sodium.
- Fish sauce: The quintessential Vietnamese ingredient. My favorite brand is Red Boat because of the clean ingredients and it's more concentrated, so a little goes a long way.
- Sugar: To balance all the funky, rich ingredients.
- Parmesan cheese: A must-have! It makes the garlic pasta creamy, flavorful, and umami-rich. Refrigerated is always better than the shelf-stable version with the green top.
- Green onion: I like to slice it thinly, then give it a rough chop for smaller pieces.
Substitutions & Variations
- If you can't find refrigerated lo mein noodles, you can use the dried version or even pasta. Spaghetti is a popular substitution - I find it a little too thin for my taste, but it would still work. You could also use Top Ramen or zucchini noodles (zoodles) to change it up.
- Instead of soy sauce, try Maggi. It's a deeper, richer version with MSG for ultimate flavor.
- Turn this into a heartier meal by adding in protein. Crustacean (crab, lobster, shrimp) is the most popular pairing with mi xao toi, but chicken or beef (like cubed steak) would be delicious as well.
- For more veggies, add a little minced ginger with the garlic. You can also add stir-fried tomatoes, which is popular in Vietnamese pasta.
- Looking for some spice? Add a pinch of red pepper flakes with the garlic or squeeze some Sriracha chili into the sauce.
🔪 How To Make Vietnamese Garlic Noodles
⬇️ Please scroll down to the recipe card to see full ingredient amounts and instructions.
STEP ONE: First, prepare your ingredients. Mince the garlic, grate the Parmesan cheese, and slice then chop the green onion. Also, bring a pot of salted water to a boil to have ready on the side.
STEP TWO: Whisk the sauce. Add oyster sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar to a small bowl and stir together.
STEP THREE: Heat a skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter and once foamy, add the garlic. Let cook softly for 1-2 minutes, stirring often. It should smell fragrant but not change color; otherwise, turn down your heat.
STEP FOUR: Drop the fresh noodles into the boiling water and lightly agitate with chopsticks or tongs to separate the pasta. Move quickly to prevent the noodles from overcooking - they should only be in the water for about 30 seconds.
STEP FIVE: Then use tongs to transfer the noodles to the skillet. Give the sauce a stir to get all the sugar from the bottom and add to the pasta, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss to stir everything together.
STEP SIX: Turn off the heat. Add the Parmesan cheese and green onion. Toss once more, then season to taste. Serve hot.
💭 Top Tips
- A quick way to prep the garlic is with a garlic press. Another alternative is to smash the garlic in a mortar and pestle or with a mallet, rolling pin, or skillet.
- Be careful with how much Parmesan cheese you add. We're not looking to add a cheesy flavor or melty texture. Instead, a little sprinkle will subtly enhance the overall salty, umami flavors of this Vietnamese dish.
- To prevent the refrigerated noodles from breaking, don't keep them in boiling water for too long or else they'll start to turn mushy. Also, keep the heat on medium and transfer a little pasta water along with the pasta to prevent them from sticking to the skillet.
🥡 Storing & Freezing
Storing: If you have leftover Mi Xao Toi, let it cool to room temperature and store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Freezing: You can freeze the cooked noodles but they're more likely to break and be mushier when you reheat them. But if you still want to freeze them, let cool completely and store in a zip-top bag with as much air squeezed out as possible. Store in the freezer for up to 4 months.
Reheating: Warm in the microwave in 30 second intervals or heat in a skillet over medium-low heat. You can add a small pat of butter to revive the pasta.
Make Ahead: This easy pasta is best served fresh but you can make them 2 days in advance and reheat as instructed.
📖 Recipe FAQs
There isn't a good substitute because it has a very unique flavor. However, hoisin sauce is the closest substitute but it'll be sweeter with less seafood flavor.
For a delicious Vietnamese spread, serve it alongside Vietnamese Fish Sauce Chicken Wings, Vietnamese Shrimp Toast, or Vietnamese Chayote Squash with Beef. I also love these noodles with Chicken Feta Spinach Burgers or a fried egg.
It's a fusion dish with influences from Vietnam, Italy, and America.
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Vietnamese Garlic Noodles (Mì Xào Tỏi)
- 1 lb refrigerated lo mein noodles (see notes)
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 12-15 cloves garlic minced
- 2 teaspoon oyster sauce
- 2 teaspoon soy sauce I recommend low sodium
- 2 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon white granulated sugar
- 1½ tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- 1-2 green onion sliced and chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, whisk together oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have it boiling and ready while you work on the sauce.
- In a large skillet or wok, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant, stirring often. Make sure to not brown the garlic, you just want it lightly cooked.
- Drop the noodles into the boiling water. Lightly agitate the noodles to separate them but don't overwork and break them. Boil for 30 seconds maximum, then use tongs to quickly transfer the noodles to the garlic butter.
- Give the sauce a whisk and add to the noodles in the skillet, making sure to get all the sugar. Lightly season the noodles with salt and pepper, then toss and stir to evenly coat the noodles in the sauce.
- Turn off the heat. Add the Parmesan cheese and green onion. Toss to combine and season to taste.
- Noodles: The restaurants usually use larger wheat/egg noodles, so I recommend lo mein which is thicker than chow mein. Refrigerated, pre-cooked noodles are also best for chewy texture and quick cooking. I use Twin Marquis yellow noodles that I purchase from the Asian supermarket.
- If you can't find refrigerated lo mein noodles, substitute with dried noodles, spaghetti, or Top Ramen.
- Instead of soy sauce, try Maggi. It's a deeper, richer version with MSG for more flavor.