Noodles & Company offers variety, freshness

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Why: On my recent visit to MOD Pizza, I discovered Noodles & Company had opened up next door. Noodles & Company began in 1995 and has since grown to include franchises across the nation. This is a fast-casual restaurant that I found geared toward family dining. Beverages are help-yourself style and meals are delivered to the table. The restaurant prides itself on using real china and silverware for service, as well as not allowing diners to tip or clean up after themselves.

Noodles & Company touts itself as "Your World Kitchen," and offers a diverse selection of noodle dishes from around the globe as the mainstay of its menu. This is balanced with soups, sandwiches and salads. Selections are made-to-order fresh.

Atmosphere: Warm, soft, colors adorn the walls and are complemented by wood surfaces and textiles. Large windows, which flank two sides of the space, together with a mix of modern lighting fixtures, create a well-lit restaurant. Carpet is used in the main dining areas and lends a homey feel. Seating is mostly in booths.

The open kitchen is dressed in stainless steel and generates a fair amount of sound during a full house. Menu boards, populated with photos and worded item descriptions, are placed by the entry as well above the ordering counter.

What I Tried: I settled on a small bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup with a Wisconsin Cheesesteak Sandwich and my dining companion tried the Bangkok Curry Noodles. I also took home the Barbeque Pork Mac β€” the featured dish at the time of my visit.

The only element that could have improved the chicken noodle soup is thick homemade noodles instead of the pasta the restaurant uses. It had quality seasoned chicken meat and simple fresh ingredients. I found it very satisfying.

Conversely, the Wisconsin Cheesesteak sandwich left a lot of room for improvement. I was expecting a more traditional rendition. The bread was so soft that it had a slightly underbaked character to it. Instead of strips of steak, the sandwich was made with pieces of bite-sized beef that tasted more seasoned than fresh off the grill. Bell peppers and red onion were lacking and out of balance with the meat, and the cheddar cheese was difficult to detect. Overall, the sandwich was disappointing as a cheesesteak but would be a viable option for anyone looking for a hearty sandwich that is soft and easy to ea.

My dining companion enjoyed the range of flavors brought together in the Bangkok Curry Noodles. This dish has sweet coconut curry, broccoli, carrots, red pepper, onion, mushroom, rice noodles and cabbage topped off with a sprinkling of black sesame seeds. He included steak with the dish, which was similar to what was in my sandwich. He found the dish spicy, though not to his satisfaction. He also noted that it arrived a bit cooler in temperature than he had hoped for.

The Barbecue Pork Mac that I brought home to try was packed with flavor. This dish begins with rich, cheesy macaroni that is then topped with pieces of tender braised pork and drizzled with tangy sweet barbecue sauce. A sprinkling of few french-fried onions finishes the dish.

Menu Highlights Beyond what I tried: The Thai Hot Pot sounded delicious, as did the Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps.

Noodles & Company offers a wide of variety of options that include spaghetti and meatballs, pesto cavatappi, penne rosa, steak stroganoff, pot stickers, tomato basil bisque, several vegetarian options, and a few desserts.

Other Observations: I found the service friendly and well-instructed. The prices are reasonable for portion size. Ingredients are fresh and I appreciated that they were not overcooked, which resulted in truly made-to-order fresh quality.Outdoor patio seating is available.

To-go packaging is sturdy and keeps heat in well.

Cost: Pasta and salads are around $8 with meat added. Sandwiches are $5.99 and $6.99. Soups come in a small size for $4.29 and a regular size for $5.49. Square Bowls offer the noodle dishes in a 3-to-5 people serving size for between $18 and $20 (meat is additional). Small bite selections generally cost $2.79 to $4, unless it is a side or single item such as a ciabatta roll or cookie, which are less than $2.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Telephone: 360-260-4839.

Where: 19151 SE Mill Plain Boulevard, Vancouver.

Web:www.noodles.com

Health Score: Noodles & Company has received a pre-opening inspection and is scheduled to receive a routine inspection in the near future. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.