1867 West 4th Ave
Brief Description: The Noodle Box chain serves yummy pan-Asian food, such as curries and stir-fried noodles and rice. Prices are a little on the higher side but still represent good value.
When I’m too tired to cook and I want fast food, I don’t crave traditional fast foods like fried chicken, or burgers and fries. My idea of fast food is fresh, made-for-you, noodles. I lived in South Australia for a number of years and one of my favourite things about the food scene there was the countless number of stores called “Wok in a Box” that were popping up everywhere. Basically, you could swing by on your way home from work and grab a box of fresh stir-fried noodles for a quick and easy lunch or dinner. The benefits were numerous; it was quite affordable (about $8 a box), it was healthy (noodles, veggies and meat/tofu) and you could select exactly what you did, and did not, want in your box. I always thought this would be a great business opportunity in Vancouver.
Looks like I am a little too late as the owners of The Noodle Box already clued onto this back in 2001 when they started their business out of a refurbished hot-dog cart on the streets of Victoria. (I would love it if this happened in Vancouver!). However, because B.C. city by-laws regarding street-vendors are so backwards they were forced to close their cart and open a store. Since then they have grown and have opened four stores in B.C. Not bad for a start as a small street-vendor.
When I was working close to West 4th, The Noodle Box became one of my frequent lunch stops. Not only can get you get mounds of steaming noodles covered in fresh ingredients and exotic sauces but they also have South East Asian inspired appetizers, such as satay and spring rolls, as well as soups and currys. In my experience, the food has always been fresh and tasty. Serving sizes are extremely generous – in fact, probably a bit too big – but, on the bright-side, that always means left-overs! Service has generally been a little slow but I can cut them some slack as they are always busy. So even though I said it was fast food, it isn’t that fast. At lunch and dinner, you will most likely find yourself queuing to place your order. You can order your noodles to go or, if you are one of the lucky few, grab yourself a seat and eat your noodles surrounded by the commotion of the busy store. The restaurant (for a lack of a better word) on West 4th has a modern, funky interior. Lots of bright colours and a welcoming, laid-back vibe assist with enticing you to dine in. Showing their support for sustainable business practices, there is also a great recycling center in-store that prompts diners to separate items that can be recycled or mulched.
I have tried almost all of the noodle boxes on the menu and I really don’t have one particular favourite as I found them all to be pretty tasty. The Spicy Peanut Box is particularly nice; Indonesian style peanut sauce, wok fried with peppers, Asian greens, crushed peanuts, herbs, sprouts, coconut milk and lime on ribbon noodles. I also like the Thai Style Chow Mein which is made with thin egg noodles wok fried with sprouts, crushed peanuts, peppers, cilantro, green onion and a light soy and ginger sauce. The Lamb Curry that I’ve had there was also pretty tasty, as is the Cambodian Jungle Curry. If you can handle it, I recommend adding some heat to your dish and the staff can help you determine what your chili tolerance level is. Some of the sauces can be a little bland without a touch of spice.
Price-wise, it isn’t overly cheap. You are looking at about $11 for a bowl of noodles but as I had previously mentioned before, the serving sizes are so large that I can get two meals out of one box. With Maenam just across the street, I really do struggle to get to The Noodle Box as much as I used to for lunch though, as they are almost on par price-wise.
Final Thoughts: I really like The Noodle Box. I wish that there were more located around Vancouver as I think that they make a great alternative to the excessive amounts of hot-dog stands and burrito stores that Vancouverites are lumped with.