When it comes to dining out, the town of Arlington has seen its ups and downs over the years. It used to be home to some excellent restaurants many decades ago before becoming a community full of pizza places and sub shops for a long stretch, and it experienced a bit of a renaissance about 10-15 years ago with all kinds of eateries moving in. A number of closures of late have led some to say that this northwest suburb of Boston was returning to its pizza place/sub shop roots, but a few excellent new spots have helped turn things around once again, including La Victoria Taqueria (a wonderful Mexican street food place), Commune Kitchen (pizza and poutine), and Magic Bites (a Turkish bakery). And now, a new Thai and Vietnamese dining spot called Noodle Market has debuted, and while there are several Thai options in town, Vietnamese food has been tough to come by since Lady Siam closed a couple of years ago and the excellent Viet’s Cafe shut down more than a decade ago. An initial look at Noodle Market over the past week or so has shown much promise for both Vietnamese and Thai fare, even as the people behind it slowly but surely settle into their new space.
Noodle Market’s predecessor—Sweet Chili—was a quiet and unassuming restaurant with a simple and no-frills vibe, and Noodle Market continues with this theme, though the space has been fixed up a bit and is attractive in low-key sort of way. Four rows of seating are spaced out as much as possible in the relatively small dining room, with the tables along the right wall having the addition of a long bench seat. The space includes Edison lights (which seem to be all the rage these days) as well as unusual cylindrical hanging lamps that you might see in a traditional Southeast Asian tea house. The overall feel is that of a calming, peaceful eating spot that goes against the trend of loud and somewhat chaotic restaurants and bars that seem to be popping up all over the place these days.
Based on several items that have been tried at Noodle Market since its debut in mid-March, it would seem tough to decide whether to go the Thai route or the Vietnamese route here, as dishes representing both cuisines have been mostly impressive. One real highlight is the banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich that has a near-legendary following among food lovers and critics alike; the version at Noodle Market is outstanding, with just the right balance of meat (best to go with the pork), cucumbers, pickled carrots, hot peppers, cilantro, and mayo, all stuffed into a traditional French baguette. On the Thai side, the crispy noodle pad Thai is also a winner and seems to be a bit more interesting than your typical pad Thai because of the added texture coming from the slightly crunchy fried noodles. The traditional Vietnamese beef stew holds promise thanks in part to star anise helping brighten up the broth, but this is more of a mild and mellow dish than, say, beef pho with plenty of sriracha added, so it may disappoint if you’re expecting bold flavors. Speaking of pho, the version offered at Noodle Market is a pretty solid one, with the pho ga (basically chicken noodle soup) including a familiar mix of rice noodles, scallions, cilantro, sprouts, onions, basil, and a lime wedge that helps boost all the flavors. One particularly satisfying option is the crispy chicken fried rice, which has some vague similarities to chicken katsu (a popular Japanese dish), including deep-fried chicken, egg, scallions, and carrots, and it comes with a sweet chili sauce. For those who like to do customizable dishes, the “curry and spices” part of the menu allows diners to choose their favorite meats and curries, with one option being a red curry with shrimp, mixed veggies, bamboo shoots, and basil.
It is probably too early to say whether Noodle Market will be in the upper echelon of dining spots for Thai food and/or Vietnamese food, but an early look at the place indicates that it certainly has some great potential—and is a bit of a Godsend to diners in the Arlington area who crave Vietnamese food. If it continues to impress with its food while also dealing with some minor issues that most restaurants have at the start, Noodle Market may very well become part of this new wave of Arlington dining spots that could make residents forget about Greek pizza and steak and cheese subs.
NOODLE MARKET. 470-472 MASS. AVE., ARLINGTON.