Noodles, Long & Lovely
In which the perfect dish receives overdue attention
By Leilani Clark
Depression, hangovers and a stout hunger are all easily defeated by one of the world's greatest comfort foods—a pile of starchy, broth-drenched noodles. In fact, noodles are so essential to the improvement of the human condition that the staff of Lucky Peach—a new food writing journal published by McSweeney's and edited by David Chang, chef of the hipper-than-thou Momofuku restaurants in Manhattan—themed their entire inaugural issue around ramen. While the North Bay may not be the most ramen-centric place on earth (unless you count the Santa Rosa Junior College area neighborhood), we do have a decent and growing selection of places dedicated to the almighty noodle in a big bowl of brothy yum.
Saigon Village Though rife with Thai and Chinese places, Marin is a bit of a dry spot for the dedicated noodle haven, so thank goodness for this authentic noodle house in downtown San Rafael. A bowl of combo beef pho scented with star anise, scallion and hefty servings of basil and bean sprouts over slurp-worthy rice noodles ($7.55) will cure the most stalwart of ills, especially if followed by a creamy, strong Thai iced coffee ($3). 720 B St., San Rafael. 415.453.3505.
Noodle Bowl The $3.95 banh mi from this strip-mall treasure has been getting all the buzz, but don't forget that this Cambodian restaurant also serves a wide variety of noodles (as if the name didn't give it away). The curry tofu over vermicelli ($8.75 medium) is tasty and filled with plenty of celery, carrots and onions to carry the flavor. The spice could be kicked up a notch, but that's as easy as putting in a request with the cook. On a recent visit, the grilled shrimp with vermicelli ($8.50 medium) left much to be desired; the shrimp was dry and the noodles overpowered the sparse vegetables included with the dish. The popular chicken noodle soup ($7.50) recommended by the waiter would be a better choice. 817 Russell Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.843.5256.
Noodle Palace Don't let the run-down building, security-barred windows and hand-painted sign fool you: there's nothing shady about his little hidden gem. The egg rolls in a bowl of rice vermicelli noodles with prawns ($7.75) are crisp and savory, though the shrimp are slightly oversalted. The barbecue beef and prawns over rice noodles ($7.75) contain thin slices of smoky grilled and marinated beef that nicely contrast with the generous helping of cabbage, carrots and radishes. Wash it all down with a chilled club soda and lemonade ($2.95) served in a dainty soda fountain glass. 1310 Petaluma Hill Road, Santa Rosa. 707.528.1548.
Lee's Noodle House Tucked away in a strip mall between a shuttered photography studio and a liquor store, Lee's is bare-bones but booming on a Wednesday afternoon at lunchtime. Soothing, tinkling Asian tunes play quietly over the stereo as friendly servers bring around trays of spring rolls, chow mein and, of course, noodles. A southern noodle soup with rice noodles, prawns, and pork ($5.95 small) contains thin slices of meat in a rich, flavorful broth. The basil leaves and bean sprouts are fresh and crunchy, and the scallions and hot green chiles add just the right amount of tang and spice. Even on a hot day, this dish puts a spring in the step. 1010 Hopper Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.523.2358.
Shimo The latest restaurant from Cyrus owner Douglas Keane, Shimo is probably the closest thing to Momofuku in Sonoma County. Here, the prince meets the pauper as $55 steaks sidle up to $7.95 noodle bowls. The noodle bar offers a basic bowl of ramen or soba noodles and choice of shoyo, miso, ginger shiso dashi or vegetarian broth. Add anything from pork belly chashu ($4.50) to slow cooked egg ($3) to build the noodles into what you like best. 241 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 707.433.6000.
Simply Vietnam Mention Simply Vietnam and inevitably someone will say, "Oh, blah blah, Pho Vietnam is way better"—and vice versa. But heated debate aside, the fact is that Simply Vietnam serves consistently fresh, cheap noodle bowls and provides an excellent atmosphere for a recession-era date night. A combination beef noodle soup topped with white onions, scallions, cilantro, bean sprouts, basil leaves and slices of jalapeno and lime ($6.95$8.50) is the perfect power food for a moonlit bike ride around town. 966 N. Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.566.8910.
Pho Vietnam An expanded dining area means this Sonoma County favorite is almost always packed to the gills with locals slurping up noodles by the dozen. Calling itself a "beef noodle soup restaurant," Pho Vietnam lets noodles dominate the menu in a way that would make even the most wily noodle master blush with pleasure. Try the salty, pungent egg noodle soup laden with prawn, crab, squid and fish cake ($5.95-$8.50), or get traditional and dig into the beef pho flavored with steak, brisket, tendon and tripe ($5.50-$7.50). 711 Stony Point Road #8, Santa Rosa. 707.571.7687.
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