On a cold, but more tolerable snowy night, we were in search of some noodles to help warm us up. Our journey brought us to “Noodle Art” on Robson Street. Where 2 out of 3 of us had never been before, and the 3rd frequents, always ordering to same menu item.

On this slower night we had the full attention of the floor staff, which included the lone server in pink and purple uniform, and the owner of the restaurant herself.

This was a treat, as she gave us a quick background spiel. Her family actually owns 68 similar restaurants in China, with this being their first venture in Vancouver, with its own name. They specialize in traditional Lanzhou cuisine, flavour from the “ Silk Road”, North West of China. As she spoke you could tell how passionate she was about her family’s legacy and the pride she had for her shop, here.

The restaurant is brightly lit. Wood strips line the right wall and a blue and red mural of people and horse covers the one on the left. But the highlight of the space has to be the partially open kitchen and the ability to watch your choice of noodles be rolled, cut, or pulled to order, then boiled up in a wok of hot water. The entire mesmerizing experience was carried out by two chefs in full uniform. Unsmiling and utterly focused on the work before them. Their hands work feverishly and the food came out quickly there after.

We were seated on the right and given a two sided menu that when folded and not laminated also served as their take out menu. Names of items were fairly descriptive, with a few choice photo to help in your decision making. However, we had the owner by our table, helping us to decide. Originally we were all going to get their “traditional Lanzhou beef noodle”, (the very order my one guests all the time and got again tonight). Although through her recommendations we were each able to find and try a different dishes, each with its own strong points. When you order any of their noodle dishes you get to choose the type of noodles you want from it. A choice made from a list of eight different options that includes an extra thin strand at 1mm and a thick flat noodle at 5mm. Worth mentioning is that they also offer rice, meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes, or their noodles dry. But we came in with a craving and one bowl of soup noodle is plenty of food for one.

As expected, the one guest got his usual: the traditional Lanzhou beef noodle, making it a combo. “Combo A” gave you a cold side, additional beef slices, and a marinaded egg with your large bowl of noodles. But if it was me I would have gotten “Combo B”, so that I could have a dessert with the set. He customized his bowl with their thickest noodle at 20mm and ask for extra spicy oil to be added in. However, the noodles weren’t all that thick and the oil wasn’t even spicy. (Though now looking at the photos, I think they must have us the wrong noodles). The noodles were nice and chewy, an ideal cut for those who order such dishes for the noodles and enjoys chewing through them. You can also get a container of the spicy oil for the table, to be able to scoop as much or as little as you like, on to whatever you want. It offers a nice peppery flavour, but despite its neon red hue, I would classify this as mild at best. As for the broth, given the amount of oil used, I can’t be sure of how it tastes normally. I guess I would just have to come back to find out. As for the sides, they were a nice break in between bites, great alone or even together within the noodle bowl. The cold seaweed offered a firmer chew, and the extra meat and egg some heartiness.

I had the “Braised ribs noodle soup”. This came recommend my our owner-host. They had originally run out of the meat in the morning, so this evening I would be partaking from a fresh batch. Hearing that was enough to have me confirming the recommendation. I had it with “triangle” noodles, that weren’t actually triangular. They are just not as flat as most of the other noodles. Thicker strands, but with a less width. They were chubby and chewy and only got more so, the longer they soaked in the broth. They do absorb liquid quick, so I suggest eating this one first and fast to get firm noodles and plenty of broth to slurp up. As for how it tasted, I couldn’t help but to compare this dish to Taiwanese beef noodle. Therefore I wanted a richer broth, with more pepper, and more heat in spice and in temperature. Similarly the meat was bland. Pieces were inconsistent with some being tender and others dry. All the flavour could have washed into the soup, but I found they fell flat. Though luckily I was able to reach for the chilli oil jar and rejuvenate my serving with a whole new flavour to work through.

My other guest got their “soup” special, a new menu item only introduced a day ago (from when I visited). They are competing in Vancouver Foodster’s Best Soup Challenge, and this is their entry. It isn’t on their regular menu, but is featured on stand up signs at each table, along with a card informing you on how you can vote for your favourite (after trying all the competitors) at the Vancouver Foodster website. Something they want to promote, so that they can potentially be crowned the best in the city, for the best soup.

This wasn’t a new dish they created, but one that is well known and well received, especially by my guest who ordered it and knew exactly what she was getting. This was their “Lamb noodle soup”, a light broth that was full of rich flavour from boiled lamb bones. It was peppery with plenty of thin slices of lamb meat. It came with vermicelli and her choice of “Blade carving noodles”. The latter made by using a knife to roughly cut out chunks of dough, straight into boiling water. The result, a thicker, shorter noodle with an inconsistent chew. It did paired very well with the thin slippery glass noodle. But she too found herself reaching for the chilli oil to help change the taste mid way.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I liked what I had, but wouldn’t go out of my way for their noodles, nor would I classify them as a destination. I can find other options with more flavour, closure to my home. However, they definitely make a great stop for those living in the neighbourhood. This is especially the case with their stamp card program, and the ability to collect them for an eventual free bowl. Don’t deny your cravings.

NOODLE ARTS
1739 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6G 1C9
(604) 673-5688
noodlearts.com