In a neighborhood saturated in Thai options, Noodles Etc has earned more than its share of devotees due to its inexpensive Pan-Asian menu and clean-as-a-whistle dining room. Entering the restaurant will take you right past the open kitchen, with the dining room tucked to the side of the restaurant. Even with only a handful of green and purple booths and an equal number of tables, there's rarely a wait to dine in, thanks to brisk business in take-out and delivery. Nonetheless the pace here is more relaxed, and a bit more private, than the second location, on 57th Street.
As the name implies, noodles are the main focus, with 20 dishes on the menu, ranging from stir fried to soupy varieties. 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. There's also a solid selection of curry dishes (with annotations indicating degrees of spiciness) such as sweet curry panang served with rice. Portions are large and prices are low, with a menu that wanders all over Southeast Asia. And while many of the dishes are tasty, 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're 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.
Reviewed By: Kate Rockwood