Slurp up noodle-y goodness at these area restaurants
500 Marion Blvd, Marion
This locally owned restaurant is right down the street from the always busy Olive Garden in Cedar Rapids. Good news for those that go to Olive Garden for the breadsticks—Napoli’s also gives you fresh bread, and it tastes way better and less artificial. They advertise that their food is 99 percent from scratch, including their creamy tomato soup that serves as the perfect dip for the bread. It’s one of those restaurants where you fit right in whether you are in a fancy dress or in a T-shirt and jeans. The delicious Fettuccine Bravissimo comes with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and capers. Eating at a cheesy chain restaurant is fine every now and again, but next time you’re in Marion drive just a little bit further to check out this underrated gem.
213 Iowa Ave, Iowa City
A fiery debate might erupt if one tried to claim that dumplings are noodles…even though they are, in a way. Controversy aside, this tiny restaurant serves up Japchae, a dish made with delightful sweet potato noodles. They are similar in texture and appearance to rice noodles, but they have just a little bit more of an earthy and starchy taste. The dish comes with spinach, mushrooms and carrots and a spicy paste, gochujang. The gochujang sits on top, making it easy to parcel into small quantities (or large quantities if you’re brave) with each bite. For dessert, be sure to try the carrot cake dumplings.
216 8th St SE, Cedar Rapids
“This food touches the soul of my appetite,” says one of the many online reviews of Phong Lan restaurant in Cedar Rapids. Soul is definitely in abundance at Phong Lan, whereas frills and showmanship are not. Although this family-run Vietnamese restaurant has been open for over a decade, it doesn’t seem to be commonly talked about except by a group of passionate regulars and online reviewers. The pho is delicious, and non-meat-eaters might be entertained by the vegetarian version that comes with bok choy, onions and lightly fried tofu. It’s pretty light fare, but the first class crab rangoons help round out the meal. Pros can be seen making perfect little rice noodle bites each time, while newbies slurp and messily enjoy. If you’re inclined to try to whip up your own pho, the restaurant is located right next to Saigon Market, but it’s probably smarter to let Phong Lan make it for you.
Jiang Hu Asian Street Food
110 E Court St, Iowa City
This Chinese restaurant features a build-your-own noodle bowl bar with nearly 30 ingredients—a rotating assortment of noodles, seafood, meat, tofu and vegetables. Called malatang, the street food-inspired bowls are charged by weight, then covered in hot broth (mild or spicy). The Youpo noodles are a favorite among many, though a brief skim of the menu might take you right past this dish. A simplistic and straightforward entree, hand-pulled noodles are expertly dressed in a spicy garlic chile oil and presented for your enjoyment and indulgence. Don’t sleep on this nest of tangy, peppery noodles. It’s a true comfort that will keep you coming back for more.