Noodles & Co. is trying a new concept - Noodles World Kitchen - in only two U.S. markets: Colorado Springs and Kansas City.
The idea is to take the work out of the customer's hands - no more standing in front of the big board to build your own bowl. At the new Noodles World Kitchen, they have crafted internationally inspired bowls ready to order. The result is a diverse range of noodle dishes - from pasta to ramen - and many can be modified for the vegan diner.
Although salads are on the menu, I went for the noodles because, well, it's Noodles World Kitchen. Vegans can hop safely from Italy to Japan to Korea to Thailand. (But stay away Wisconsin. There's no veganizing that bowl of cheese.)
Opt for small or large bowls. Small is perfect for one person, and large are terrific to share. The basic spaghetti and marinara sauce (hold the meatballs and Parmesan, $5.25) needs a little boost. I added mushrooms and olives (75 cents each). Just OK, I was looking for a bit more and got it with the light and more complex Thai green curry (hold the shrimp, add tofu, $8.25). The rice noodles are less dense than the traditional flour variety; the onion, sweetened from the sauté, combined with chunks of pineapple, moderates the subtle curry spice.
The two vegan stars are the spicy Korean noodles and Japanese pan noodles (both $9.25 for large bowls). Be sure to request tofu to replace beef and steak, respectively. Gochujang, the latest hot sauce trend, heats up the Korean bowl of ramen noodles with just the right amount of sweetness. Verdant spinach and fresh cilantro brighten this bowl and provide the right amount of leafy greens to make it stand out as a wholesome, plant-based meal.
My flavorful favorite however, is the Japanese udon noodles. Caramelized to nearly dry, the noodles and tofu hold on to the thick earthy soy sauce and black sesame seed gravy. The sprouts and snap peas deliver a crisp contrast to the chewy, meaty base.
With six Noodles & Co. locations featuring the new "world kitchen" approach, you can easily find a local site for a quick bite (order online for to-go meals) or relish a more leisurely meal and enjoy a beer ($3 to $4) or glass of wine ($5). Either way, if you've been lamenting the lack of fast, healthy, plant-based food around town, you're going to like this option. Enormously.