When instant ramen became a college staple, the demand for noodle dishes began to take off across the country, moving beyond dorm fast food to chic Asian restaurants. Now the slinky ramen noodles are a mainstay, elevated in more elaborate dishes.
At the new Midtown Noodles Bar on Monroe Street, the pan-Asian menu features ramen noodle combinations with pork belly, steak, vegetable or miso, but the menu goes further afield.
The restaurant has only been open since Aug. 2 but it is already turning out an exciting menu that reflects the Chinese heritage of the owners but also the Vietnamese recipes of their close friends, said manager Angela Chen. Japanese, Korean and Thai dishes also round out your choices.
“Traditional with a twist,” said Chen.
We’ve had our share of restaurant and bar closings since the pandemic, so it’s a good feeling to be welcoming resilient owners who are opening new restaurants.
Local owners Li Hong, Deric He, Vivin Lin and Jessica Zheng had to push back the opening due to Covid-19 but they’re now settled in their new home of the former Seineyard Restaurant in the Publix Super Market at Lake Ella Plaza, at 1660-6 N. Monroe St.
The interior has a sleek, hip look with a light grey backsplash, gold accents, twinkly lights and a mix of black couches and tables. You can dine in, get take out (stop inside or get curbside pickup) or delivery from Uber Eats or DoorDash.
“We haven’t had the ability to do any big promotions yet,” said Chen.
Word is slowly getting out however. We heard raves about the place so we were eager to try it out. We wanted a peek inside so picked up our food at the counter.
We came across so many intriguing dishes it was tough to make a decision. We ended up getting three starters. Vietnamese summer rolls ($5) are a delicious escape from the heat, soft translucent rice paper wrappers packed with shrimp, lettuce, basil and herbs. Dip these plump rolls into a creamy peanut sauce and you have an explosion of fresh flavors.
Our starter of ramen kaarage chicken ($5) brings small bites of fried chicken in a batter mixed with ramen pieces to give it more of a crunch; spicy mayo on the side. It’s remindful of an Asian-style chicken nugget. Crab rangoon ($5), a typical version but tasty, has a rich filling of imitation crab and cream cheese in a won-ton wrapper that’s deep-fried.
Our entree of katsu chicken curry and rice ($11) was terrific. It’s worth it to pay $1 extra and get the fried rice, dotted with corn and peas, instead of white rice. The katsu brings several slices of panko breaded chicken tenderloins, the meat juicy and tender. The crowning touch is the Japanese curry sauce. This is milder than Thai or Indian versions, a roux-based stew with chunks of potatoes and carrots. It came in a separate container so no messiness. We could have slurped it all up.
Our other entree was also a hit — zhajiang noodles ($11). The plate features a mound of grilled pork in a hoisin peanut sauce nestled atop wheat flour noodles that resemble spaghetti, with skinny slivers of cucumbers and carrots plus mushrooms and a garnish of green onions.
There are so many dishes we must go back to try. The famed Vietnamese soup pho (pronounced “fuh”), is another star on the menu. Other temptations include pad Thai, dumplings, chicken satay, barbecued short ribs, udon noodles, Korean japchae (clear stir-fry noodles with vegetables), buns (pork belly, beef or chicken) and jjamppong (ramen noodles with mussels, clams, squid, shrimp, and fish cakes in a spicy seafood broth).
They also have boba tea, juices and for dessert, mini cheesecakes.
We’re not sitting down inside right now so I can’t really judge service on a normal scale. But when you order, the staffers who answer the phone are very helpful and friendly and when we picked up our food, everything was correct.
Total: We paid $52.08 with tax and tip for three appetizers and two entrees.
Midtown Noodles Bar is worth many repeat visits for addictive, exotic and affordable fare. Global but local.
When you go ….
1660 N. Monroe St.; 850-999-3023
Open 11 to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
For a photo gallery with pictures from Tallahassee Table and the Tallahassee Democrat, see here