Your dollars could go a long way at , the express Asian restaurant at . Dozens of Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese specialties are yours for the taking, most in the neighborhood of $10. Order at the counter and within a few minutes someone will call your number and hand you a plate heaped high or a quart-sized plastic container all hot and bendy from the food stuffed into it.
You’ll find plenty of safe bets and time-honored favorites on the menu—sundry lo meins, various wontons, and miscellaneous dishes of fried rice. The BBQ choices look promising too, like the spare ribs that a young Asian woman was eating a table away from me.
Unfortunately, I spent my $30 on the farthest thing imaginable from spare ribs and fried rice. I spent my $30 on an education, on an experiment, on the dishes that sounded the most unusual, the most like the kind you see on the Travel Channel, the most frightening.
Take, for example, the thousand-year egg and salty pork congee ($8). Congee is a porridge made from boiling the hell out of rice, and by itself tastes about as bland as you’d expect. It can be eaten for breakfast or supper, with all sorts of more savory ingredients added. Thick and clumpy, it sticks to your ribs and leaves you full and satisfied, like Wilford Brimley after a bowl of oatmeal.
That is, unless you go and do something stupid, like add thousand-year egg to it. The only other time I’ve eaten a thousand-year egg was in 2007 on vacation in Houston. Now I remember why I hadn’t eaten one since. Cured for weeks in either a brine or a more traditional mixture with clay and ash, thousand-year eggs are really just rotten eggs. In some Asian countries, the name for them translates to “horse piss eggs,” so aromatic they be.
Slicing one in half reveals a cross-section of a zombie’s eyeball, an ashen yolk surrounded by gelatinous rings of dark amber. My congee contained such a small amount of egg that I really couldn’t taste it (which was surely a blessing), but the texture—similar to the stiff rind on a bowl of Jell-O exposed to the air for too long—left a lasting impression, to put it nicely. None of this was Noodles’ fault; thousand-year eggs are simply not for me. If you can eat them, God bless you.
It also wasn’t Noodles’ fault that I couldn’t choke down my order of pho. A Vietnamese soup made with rice noodles, pho is one of my all-time favorites when it’s made with plain old chicken or beef brisket. But I ordered the pho dac biet ($12), or pho with the works, namely brisket, tripe, flank, and tendon, which, as you might have guessed, pretty much ruined it. The feathery texture of the tripe and the stretchy, stringy, sometimes slimy, sometimes crunchy tendon left me longing for thousand-year egg. I mixed in all the traditional garnishes of basil leaves, bean sprouts, sliced onion, Thai peppers, lime, and hot sauce, but nothing could rescue the dish. Next time I would play it safe and order the pho with beef meatballs.
Not everything I ate at Noodles was a disaster. The Szechuan wontons ($6.75), stuffed with pork and doused with soy sauce and chili oil, were terrific. So were the Chinese donuts. Two dollars bought five of these fried dough sticks, also known as youtiao and often eaten with congee. I took them home and sprinkled them with sugar—dynamite.
My final bill came to $30.48 after tax, and I got quite an experience for the price.