Atmosphere won out during my stay at the newly opened Noodle Nation, with a steady stream of alternative-rock hits pumping through the speakers (Foo Fighters and Oasis, just in case you were wondering), friendly and warm service, generous portions and a kitchen that’s still cooking when insomniacs like myself are still hungry (it’s open till 1:30 a.m. every day).
Taking over New China Express’ former location, Noodle Nation is the latest in a bundle of Thai joints on the Ave.
And to line up all of those positives listed above in one Thai restaurant — or any restaurant for that matter — is tough. The best of the bunch still miss out on at least one. Think about it: Thai Tom, maybe the most popular Thai place on the Ave, has rushed service that isn’t for everyone, while Thaiger Room’s late-night hours can’t make up for their puny portions.
But even if Noodle Nation has the atmosphere to stand out from the crowd, it unfortunately doesn’t have the food.
The menu is comparatively typical, though there’s a large selection to choose from (nine appetizers, five salads, 11 noodle and stir-fry dishes, 14 noodle soups, a handful of desserts and Singha beer). Prices are reasonable and likely comparatively average. A hefty Thai iced coffee cost $2.95 and was worth every penny. Meanwhile, the phad Thai ($8.95) my date ordered and my phad see iew ($8.95) arrived within five minutes, along with hand-delivered chopsticks. My midnight craving was ready to be satisfied.
It was the phad Thai that fared better than my phad see iew, which I’ll explain in a bit. Despite having no complaints — the phad Thai wasn’t overly sweet, its level of spiciness was equal to how it was ordered (two stars), the onions and peanuts crunched, and the noodles were far from dry — nothing was particularly memorable, either.
On the other hand, the phad see iew was a bit different from the norm. Instead of broccoli and carrots, it featured Chinese broccoli, which tasted bland. However, the chicken was tender and gave the meal the most flavor, whereas the noodles were simply disappointing — oily and a bit undercooked. Still, there was lots of it, meaning that if you’re looking for something to fill you up around midnight, this isn’t a bad choice. As for taste, there are much better phad see iew options on the Ave, and the best I’ve ever had remains a neighborhood away in Wallingford at the wonderful May-Thai.
Even though the food hovers around mediocre, the rest of the Noodle Nation experience picks the food up. The restaurant’s interior has an open, industrial feel with slate floors and exposed light bulbs and is matched only in appearance for Ave Thai joints by the cozy Tara Thai Cuisine. And, again, the service and portions were fantastic.
Convenience-wise, Noodle Nation is a welcome addition to the Ave.
It’ll be taking over my midnight Thai cravings from Thaiger Room with the knowledge that, at the very least, I’ll leave with a full belly.
Two and a half stars.
Reach reporter Bryden McGrath at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4232 University Way NE
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