At Noodles Etc., it's hard not to see and be seen. Not because this restaurant is the hippest, but because large windows line both sides of the sunny corner spot and the wooden tables are so close together it's hard not to notice who's dining beside you. With plenty of sidewalk foot traffic and a steady stream of hungry diners, this is people-watching at its prime. Or turn your back to the crowds, hop onto a high chair at the bar and watch your meal being cooked in the open kitchen.
As the name implies, noodles take center stage at this Pan-Asian eatery, which serves more than 20 noodle dishes that range from the stir-fried to the soupy. Chicken pad thai ($5.95) is the house specialty, served with bountiful crushed peanuts, lightly stir-fried bean sprouts and a hefty helping of marinated chicken. Portions are large, prices are low and the menu wanders all over Southeast Asia. And while many of the dishes are solid and tasty, a few are truly inventive, such as the wasabi-flavored wonton skins that hold the pork and vegetable shum-mai appetizer ($3.99).
Dessert doesn't extend far beyond lychee and thai sweet custard, so you may be better off skipping the sweets for a decadent specialty drink instead. The Vietnamese coffee is rich and luxurious, brewed individually right at your table, while cans of Jamaican and mango drinks are light and fruity. BYOB.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Kate Rockwood