OK, so Noodles and Company is a chain—a small chain, a very cool chain—of upscale fast-food joints. They prefer to call themselves “quick-casual,” and you do dine on china plates using actual utensils, but anywhere you stand in line to order at a register is fast food. If, however, more of this fast-food nation’s landscape resembled Noodles and Company, you can bet fewer Americans would sport asses that could shade a semi.
The menu offers prepared-to-order noodle-based Asian, Italian, and good ol’ American dishes—from spicy, Bangkok curry ($5.75), to classic comfort chow, Wisconsin mac ’n’ cheese ($4.95)—for the price of a McJoint combo meal. It’s a vegetarian’s dream: the dishes are fresh, full of veggies, and don’t contain meat, though for a fee you may certainly add sautéed organic tofu ($1.50), chicken or beef ($2), or shrimp ($2.25). And while you won’t confuse the Asian selections with authentic fare, what do you want for five bucks in under five minutes? Our only quibble with the Indonesian peanut sauté ($5.75) is that it needed more cilantro, but otherwise the chile-powered peanut sauce and rice noodles were right on, with carrots, broccoli, napa cabbage, and bean sprouts adding crunch and texture to the slippery mass. The Thai curry soup ($4.95) is good on its own but especially nice with shrimp. Helped along with a dash from the bottle of Sriracha sauce found on every table, suddenly it was hotter inside than out. Good thing the serve-yourself beverages have free refills ($1.60). You can also put out the fire with a massive Rice Krispy treat ($1.50) for dessert.