1412 U Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20009 (http://dcnoodles.com/)
** and 1/2 (Good/Very Good)
“I don’t know about this,” I distinctly remember telling my wife when she led me into DC Noodles for the first time. The small, almost unnoticed restaurant sits on U Street in Northwest Washington, just down the street from the constantly bustling U Street and 14th Street corridors. Given the popularity of the restaurants up and down those streets, I was more than a little nervous about the empty dining room at Noodles. Several meals later, I’m not afraid to say I was wrong. DC Noodles packs some delicious flavors into their dishes; whether serving a sparsely populated dining room, or a full house.
Looks can be deceiving. That’s what I felt after that first Noodles meal. Though I walked in with skepticism before that dinner, I walked away with what’s become one of my favorite dishes in the city, and a go-to restaurant for future meals. The staff, though a mostly quiet and unassuming bunch, are efficient and polite. And the menu is separated between smaller plates broken down into categories (Buns, Skewers, Dumplings, Crispy, Healthy Bites) and the house specialty: noodles.
We begin with the Pork Belly Buns, whose eponymous containers are soft and pillowy, but whose pork could use additional seasoning. The lemongrass hoisin adds a rounded sweetness to the appetizer, with refreshing crispness from scallions and cucumber. Even better, one evening featured Crispy Brussels Sprouts, a beautifully composed dish of the flash fried vegetable, candied walnuts, beet bits, all tossed in a citrus-soy dressing. The sprouts were nicely crisped and well-salted; but were balanced between the sweetness of the walnuts and beets, and the acidity of the citrus. A real treat.
But neither of those dishes are the real reason why I had to eat my words. That honor belongs to the Sosu Yakisoba, currently my favorite bowl of noodles to be had in the city.
The dish tops stir-fried soba and vegetables with grilled, crispy skin salmon prepared
medium-rare, and finished off with toasted nori. Savory, rich, and homey, it’s a dish that perfectly encapsulates umami. I’ve yet to leave without licking the bowl clean. With Drunken Noodles, the restaurant continues to highlight its namesake; in this case, a wide rice noodle. Subtle notes of spice from Thai chili peppers are rounded out with Thai basil and the salty undercurrents of fish sauce, the Southeast Asian staple. Normally a Thai go-to, the dish does not disappoint.
My wife still likes to make fun of me for doubting her (about the restaurant; at least in this case), but I have to hand it to her: she picked a real winner. When I started to put together this review, part of me wanted this place to stay a secret. But at the end of the day, folks need to know about this fantastic find…wait times be damned. Bottom line: DC Noodles offers unique takes on classic noodle preparations, and does its name proud.
Atmosphere: An industrial-chic feeling inside, with sheet metal tables, plenty of mirrors, and some rustic woods thrown in for good measure. As is the norm for restaurants these days, there are Edison bulbs featured prominently. The space features two separate bars, with high top seating in the front, and a dining room in the rear of the restaurant. Service is prompt and polite, but not overly chatty.
Noise: Moderate. When there are people packed into the restaurant, you may have to raise your voice or lean in a bit more, but more often than not, we’ve been able to hold conversations without issue.
Recommended Dishes: Pork Belly Buns, Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Sosu Yakisoba, Drunken Noodles
Reservations: Accepted. On all our trips, we have been able to walk in and grab dinner – either in the dining room or at the bar – without an issue.
$$ – $25 to $50 for dinner for two