Mixed noodles

Bubble time! The Passion Fruit Icy bubble drink with tapioca pearls at Noodle Café.

Bubble time! The Passion Fruit Icy bubble drink with tapioca pearls at Noodle Café.

Photo By lauren randolph

Noodle Café is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Noodle Café

113 Los Altos Pkwy.
Sparks, NV 89436

The women in my wife’s family get very cranky when hungry, and hunger sets in suddenly. Perhaps it’s because I’m a guy who can happily eat all day or survive on nothing at all, but it always comes as a surprise to me when the hunger hits those ladies. You don’t want to start talking about where to go eat, but instead should already have them seated in front of something edible with a utensil in hand. On a Monday afternoon, I took my mother-in-law, Pam, and sister-in-law, Kimberly, to lunch at the Noodle Café. They were hungry, and the food was dismally slow out of the kitchen so there were a tense couple of moments.

Noodle Café occupies a spot in the vast new shopping center along Pyramid Highway. The interior prominently features the color yellow, and apart from the tables and some plants, it’s pretty sparse. Behind the counter, Noodle Café has a menu with the largest list of bubble drinks I have ever seen. They boast over 200 flavors of juices and teas, and people streamed in to order them that hot afternoon. The problem is there was only one server handling the dining area, preparing drinks, and working the cash register. Though she was pleasant, she appeared totally overwhelmed. She took our order about five minutes after we sat down, but proceeded to prepare beverages for every person ordering to-go drinks before bringing us our own drinks and appetizers. Judging by the “help wanted” sign hanging on the front door, Noodle Café is aware they need to address staffing levels.

To start, Kimberly ordered a lavender milk tea ($2.99), Pam the Strawberry Snow ($2.99), and I, the Honeydew Snow ($3.55). For an extra 55 cents we each added boba—little tapioca balls the consistency of Gummy Bears. On a hot summer day, these sweet, icy drinks are incredibly satisfying and loads of fun. For nourishment sake, we ordered crab Rangoon (seven for $4.50) and steamed barbecue pork buns (75 cents each) as appetizers. The crab Rangoon was mostly fried dough, with very little crab and cheese filling, which was a disappointment.

For entrees, Kimberly picked the fried tofu vermicelli bowl ($6.95), Pam the chicken pho ($6.25) and I the rare beef steak pho ($6.25). Being vegetarian, Kimberly pointed out there’s a lot of meat on the menu, but when she asked for tofu, which isn’t listed, Noodle Café cooked up some of the best I’ve had. I generally don’t eat the stuff, but Noodle Café did an exceptional job crispifying the exterior of each little cube. Unfortunately the rest of the plate consisting of noodles, zucchini, lettuce and a light dressing that was pretty bland.

As for our pho, Noodle Café’s menu sums it up right, “garnishing pho is like putting together your own hamburger—you can have it your way.” For me, pho is all about the condiments, and Noodle Café supplied all the tender meat, bean sprouts, jalapeños, soy sauce, hot sauce and hoisin sauce to flavor mine to taste. I generally like the broth about as spicy as can be and near the color of molasses, which might leave purists scowling.

In addition to its namesake dishes, Noodle Café also serves several sweet and savory crepes. We tried the Nutella crepe with whipped cream ($3.64). Great Nutella and whipped cream, but the crepe needed some work. Any bit not smothered in Nutella was dry and chewy. Luckily they were generous with the Nutella.

Overall, the experience was fair to middling. They’ve got the whole bubble tea routine down, but the food and, most importantly, the service need some attention.