I won't lie that I had only been to a Noodles & Company once before for a rushed lunch during a work trip. All I remember was taking multiple phone calls on my charging Blackberry and forcing large gobs of noodles and veggies down my throat while thinking to myself "Hmmmm, this taste pretty darn good." I left having eaten a good meal and was happily satiated but don't ask me what I ate.
So earlier this week I had the opportunity to stop by the new Noodles & Company that opened up in the loop here in Chicago just down the way from my office. Since I wasn't rushed, this time I actually got be present with the food that I was ingesting and have full sensory experience with my meal. Having eaten so many times at Takashi's Noodles at Macy's on State Street, I wondered how well this would measure up. I had the perception of the first being fast food and the latter being fresh and hand-made.
I ordered the Indonesian Peanut Sate (pictured below) and my work colleague ordered the Parmesan Crusted Chicken on the Tuscan Linguini.
What I really appreciated is that the experience didn't feel like it was a fast food experience. There was ample space for seating. The food was brought to the table with silverware rather than waiting to pick the food up on my tray and using plasticware. They also pick the dishes up once you're done. The only fast food part of the experience was grabbing my drinking and how fast my food came out from the kitchen. The ordering experience was great. The food was DELICIOUS. I devoured every bit of it and was very full.
They even had one of those new fountain soda machines that offers over 100 different Coke products. My work colleague had a good call-out - Most people aren't used to the new fangled machine and there's only one of them. So it's going to take time for each person to look through the menu of drink options, decide on their beverage of choice and finally dispense it. This could result in some lag time when it gets busy during the lunch hour.
Some things that vegans and vegetarians should be careful about the menu:
- All of the food is prepared in the same area so be sure to ask that your food be made separately if you don't want the oils from other dishes intermingled with your own. This is especially important if you have a testy stomach.
- The majority of the noodles are egg-free but some of them like the Mushroom Stroganoff and the Buttered Noodles have egg noodles. Be sure to ask for a substitution if you have an egg allergy or don't eat eggs.
- Be sure to ask for the vinaigrette dressing for your salad or sandwich. The non-vinaigrette option has eggs.
- Watch out for the Pad Thai. It has fish/shellfish in it.
Here are the big pluses I found:
- The Tomato Bisque (pictured below) and the Thai Curry Soup don't use chicken or beef broth!!! It's so darn rare that vegetarians and vegans can indulge in soup because of this.
- The majority of the noodle and pasta dishes are egg-free and the ones that do have egg in them can easily be substituted.
- I HATE fresh cilantro on my food. One of the big pluses is that they are able to custom make everything to your palate. So for me - hold the meat, add tofu, NO CILANTRO, extra mushrooms and spicy please. This also helps if I want to try some of the other dishes that come with meat on top.
- The veggies are all fresh, and the food is made to order once you place your order. There are so many options and combination that I could visit here 10 more times and get something different each time.
- And finally.... Sriracha. 'Nuff said.
In my opinion, the aspects to be careful about are greatly overshadowed by the pluses. In summary, the menu has great options for vegetarians. Vegans can customize the dish to fit within their dietary guidelines. And there are tons of options. Check out their menu here.
Now the only thing that's missing is a frequent customer or rewards card so I can earn some free meals for all of the times I'll be visiting.