It’s that time of year: the few weeks of winter in South Florida when a chill hits the night air and a bowl of nourishing Asian noodle soup beckons. Noodle House in Lauderdale Lakes, a no-frills Vietnamese restaurant with a full assortment of slurpables, hits the spot.
The traditional phos are satisfying, although I found the beef broth a bit lacking in depth. Other soups, such as duck with dried bamboo shoots and rice noodles, were better and more flavorful. There’s also a variety of rice plates and noodle bowls, topped with meats, veggies and herbs. Add it up, and you have a reasonable, comfortable place to chow down and fill up.
Noodle House is along Broward County’s ethnic cheap-eats corridor, State Road 7, and the surrounding area isn’t much to behold. The restaurant, which opened in 2011 and changed ownership a few years ago, is in a strip mall next to a Dollar General store. Among Noodle House’s virtues: You can go in with a $20 bill, have a meal with a beer, and still have money left over to buy a few items at the Dollar General.
Most soups and platters are in the $8 to $10 range. The highest priced item on the menu, stir-fried shrimp with mixed vegetables, costs $15.95. After recently dining at a parade of restaurants in trendier areas where I’d be whimpering without my corporate charge card, it was nice to get back to a place where I could regularly afford to go on my own dime. Even though this isn’t haute cuisine with million-dollar décor, Noodle House boasts solid food in a functional environment. The dining room is clean and well designed, with wooden tables and chairs, dark tile floors and a wooden-slatted ceiling. There is framed Asian artwork along the walls and an overhanging centerpiece with four paiper-maché globe lanterns.
Vietnamese owner Cuong Nguyen and his staff are efficient and friendly, and our dinner began with a complimentary bowl of crispy shrimp chips. A nice touch in a place where there is no bread basket (and no banh mi sandwiches on the menu).
We started with an order of goi cuon ($4.25), better known as summer rolls, thin slices of shrimp and pork with vermicelli noodle and vegetables wrapped in thin rice paper. These were plump, fresh and meaty, with a well-proportioned ratio that emphasized the meats and vegetables more than the pasta. I’d rank these among the best I’ve had in South Florida, accompanied by a peanut dipping sauce that was enlivened by a squeeze of the Sriracha hot sauce found on all tables.
There are many other traditional offerings to start, including sliced beef salad with basil and peanuts, fried fish balls and grilled shrimp paste on sugarcane. We went for the roasted quail ($11.95), four delicate and delicious quarters served on a dish of pedestrian shredded lettuce with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. The garnish wasn’t much, but those bird bits were beautiful. Westerners conditioned to plump, antibiotic-filled chicken breasts may find quail bony and stringy, but I found these crisp pieces a perfect way to whet the appetite. Glazed with a sweet and savory coating of rice wine and spices that caramelized beautifully, they were finger-licking good.
Pho, pronounced “fuh,” is a breakfast staple in Saigon, but patrons can order it all day at Noodle House. The eatery opens at 10 a.m., catering to Asians who enjoy beef-noodle soup instead of pancakes and eggs, and the parade of sippers and slurpers gets more diverse throughout the day. The usual range of meat cuts is available, from basic thin slices of rib steak, pho tai ($7.95), to a deluxe combination featuring brisket, flank, tendon, tripe and meatballs, called pho dac biet ($8.75), for the more adventurous.
Part of pho’s fun is assembling the accompaniments. At Noodle House, the bowl has broth, beef, rice noodles, scallions and onions. A side dish has bean sprouts, thai basil, jalapenos and a lime. You rip up the herbs, toss in the veggies and squeeze in the lime, then add Sriracha and chili paste to taste. It cures everything from hangovers to the common cold.
Assembly was also required for the duck soup, bun mang vijt ($9.50). A bowl of chicken and pork broth, bamboo shoots and noodles didn’t really take flavorful shape until I dumped in the full side plate of bone-in duck, carrots, red cabbage and cilantro. Fat from the duck and its skin immediately infused a burst of unhealthy goodness, and the crunch of the carrots and cabbage with the chewy noodles was a textural delight. Just beware the bone fragments, because the duck is cleaved in a way that can be hazardous to teeth.
A pork and shrimp vermicelli bowl, called bun thit nuong tom, ($8.95) was less perilous and easier to navigate, although no less delicious. The grilled shrimp and pork were tender and succulent, served atop a pile of warm vermicelli with cool, chopped cucumbers and shredded carrots. It comes with a bowl of sweet and tangy dipping sauce. The biggest clunker of the night was seafood pan-fried noodles ($14.95), a gloppy and flavorless mix of shrimp, calamari and fake crab with vegetables over bird’s nest noodles.
There’s not much in the way of dessert, but there’s plenty of sugary stuff to drink, including Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk ($3.50), Thai iced tea ($3.95), and a variety of fruit-flavored pearl smoothies ($3.95) with tapioca balls. The soups and noodle bowls at Noodle House hit the sweet spot for me.
4461 N. State Road 7, Lauderdale Lakes
954-485-6079, or Facebook.com/FLNoodleHouse
Cost: Inexpensive. Appetizers $4-$12. Soups $7-$15. Rice plates and noodle bowls $8-$15.
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. (until 10 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday)
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Limited selection of beer and wine
Sound level: Mellow
Wheelchair access: Ground level in strip shopping center
Parking: Free lot