From vermicelli to pasta, may every day be graced with noodles. But, it's National Noodle Day on October 6, so that's a good excuse to get into a bowl of carb-y goodness too.
A rare place that makes its own fresh rice noodles—a four-day ordeal of soaking, grinding, waiting, and extruding—for vermicelli bowls, pho, and other noodle soups like the fragrant, seafood-rich hu tieu. Dong Thap’s pure-tasting broths are too light for some, perhaps; there’s always hoisin and sriracha. But oh man. Those noodles. The difference is apparent almost down to a molecular level. (Noodles are also sold by the pound to take home.)
Don’t underestimate this order-at-the-counter, lunch-only joint; its pasta is legitimately transcendent, and quantum leaps ahead of the field in creativity. Weekday mornings pasta geek Mike Easton blogs photos of that day’s handful of seasonal choices—maybe creste di gallo pasta with braised Treviso, garlic, chilies, and olives; maybe gnocchetti with sweet corn and sage—which pulls Pioneer Square office workers in droves. Easton’s repertoire is bottomless, his seasonality admirable, his passion winning. A couple of salads and a dessert round out the offerings, making this ticket to Italy no more than $15. Arrive early; lines can be epic.
Xi’an Noodles doesn’t offer much in the way of ambience, but nobody in line to place an order at the cash register much cares. They’re here for one thing: Those skeins of biang biang noodles, named for the sound that happens when chefs slap long strands of dough against a counter, creating the fissures that lead to those wide, perfectly chewy ribbons, the specialty of the northwest China city of Xi’an. Sampling this particular type of noodle used to require a trip to Edmonds or Redmond, but thankfully owner Lily Wu brought them into Seattle’s food ecosystem.
After Goldilocks moments in spaces too small—the sidewalk takeout down the street—then too big—the Pioneer Square basement—the beloved Little Uncle has found its just-right. Mind you, the packed, modern space has limited seating—but wraparound windows help, and aromas from the open kitchen—tended by owners Wiley Frank and Poncharee Kounpungchart—evoke its heady citizen-of-the-world status. A $13-ish menu of terrific noodle bowls, starring phad thai (add the side packets of chiles and nuts and sugar if you want intrigue) and exquisite khao soi gai (chicken curry over egg noodles) is served 11am to 9pm, with an added card of shareables after 5pm. Execution remains the bugaboo, but it’s hard to care when so much else is just right.
Brian Clevenger still preps pasta the way he learned at San Francisco’s esteemed Delfina—housemade noodles cook briefly in simmering water, but mostly in the saute pan with the sauce, and a few ladles of pasta water for good measure. The difference is subtle, but there’s an almost creamy dimension to the strozzapreti in a ragù of pork shank, an extra richness to the spaghetti that crackles with anchovy and chili flakes. Like its sibling, Vendemmia, Clevenger’s new restaurant in West Seattle is all about pasta, fish, and vegetables—with more pasta and more tables. Some dishes, like hamachi crudo or a salad of dungeness crab and snap peas feel more Northwest than Italian. Then again, isn’t using the best of what’s nearby and in season the most Italian approach of all?
This tidy counter in Pike Place Market offers the labor-intensive flatbreads known as guo kui, each one rolled by hand, griddled, then plunge it into the bowl-shaped oven, rather like a tandoor, beneath. Each one emerges crisp on one side, soft within, and is still hot when split and filled with pork, beef, or chicken in chili and sesame sauces with cilantro and pickled cucumbers. There are also a few hand-shaved noodle dishes, a longtime speciality of chef/owner Chengbiao Yang. Lines can be long.
The owners of vegetarian Thai Jhanjay and Isan Pestle Rock added a casual noodle joint on Northwest Market Street where diners sit close together and inhale rich Southeast Asian noodle soups. If the build-your-own-adventure combinations seem daunting, head straight for this clear, porky broth full of leaner-than-usual barbecue pork atop egg noodles and a few of Sen’s excellent wontons.
The rustic Italian farmstead with the trestle tables and wrought iron chandeliers serves the best pasta in Pike/Pine, even Seattle: rich hand-cut Piedmontese egg-yolk noodles, tajarin, which clutch the ragu or the sage butter silkenly. The pastas all achieve density and delicacy at once—ravioli of rapini with pine nuts, maybe, or hearty cavatelli with chanterelles—but meat dishes, from rabbit to angelic heritage pork, can also be extraordinary. Think earthy, long stewed, rough cut, boldly flavored—and careful. Neighboring bar, Artusi, lets us drink like Italians too, with a menu of sophisticated Italian noshes and aperitifs.
“Healthy pasta” sounds like the saddest trombone of all fast-casual concepts. But this Capitol Hill newcomer from two Tuscany natives delivers legitimately superb pasta—and with fewer carbs too. Pick your shape from the day’s offerings, which may include spaghetti, rigatoni, or big spirals of campanelle, then select a sauce like Sicilian pesto made with mint and almonds or braised hen with pistachios and citrus zest. Nuclear scientist–turned–chef Filippo Fiori extrudes pasta made from a legion of flours: quinoa, rice, rye, corn, and bean among them, the combination of which adds more fiber, more protein, and more satisfying bite.
This spacious noodle house has been serving up Cambodian food since 1986. And no wonder—steamy, hot bowls of egg or rice noodles come served in a pristine, savory broth topped with everything from sliced pork to prawns to roasted duck. Beyond noodle soups, dishes like mee katang, curries, salted fish, lemongrass beef, tamarind sour soups all nod to the intermingled cuisines of southeast Asia.
Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi (Joule, Revel) fuse Korean food; that’s what they do. Here in Trove’s four operations in one—cocktail lounge, fast-food noodle bar, Korean barbecue dining room, parfait truck—the element being fused is fun. Twelve-buck noodle dishes from the counter up front might include Asian “spaghetti” with Swiss chard and meatballs; desserts from the clever sawed-off ice cream truck facade are classic frozen custard parfaits, some tweaked with Asian elements like miso caramel. (And don’t miss the visual puns all over the bustling red-ceilinged room, from the Godzilla–eats–Space Needle wallpaper to the whimsical scene inside the truck’s gas cap.) But the main event is Korean barbecue in the main dining room where tables have grills for DIY cooking of cuts like Wagyu chuck or pork belly with sesame salt. Take your meat off the heat, cut it with scissors, then dress it with the lettuce leaves and fresh herbs and kimchi and other Korean embellishments known as banchan and ssam—marveling as the flavors and textures ricochet around your palate, enhanced with every collision.
Editor's Note: Updated October 8, 2018 at 10:15am to reflect that Phnom Penh Noodle House has since closed.