"WE APOLOGIZE. This is our first day of business and we are SOLD OUT for lunch food at this time.”
1166 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Bummer. The sign’s on the front door of the brand-new West Pac Noodle Bar. People cluster around, reading. “The full menu will be available today after 5 p.m.! Sorry for any inconvenience.”
I heard this place would be opening soon when I was noshing at Clayton’s here in Coronado over the holidays. Everyone was talking about how a noodles joint was opening right here on the island. At last! We won’t have to go to Convoy to get our noodle fix.
I mean, what is it about noodles all of a sudden? And ramen (lo mein in Chinese, back in the day)? They are everywhere. My theory: it’s the Asian cool factor, plus quick comfort-food, and for once, not pizza, not burger.
So today is launch day. It’s one o’clock on a Monday afternoon. On the right, I spot a new set of sidewalk tables, benches, and black umbrellas, plus this ginormous red dragon stencil snarling across two windowpanes.
This is West Pac. And it is West Packed. Heck, the place hasn’t even been open two hours and it’s roiling with customers all talking excitedly and waiting to sit down. They’re slipping into window seats, cushioned benches alongside a realistic floor-to-ceiling bamboo forest photo-wrap, and sitting up at an L-shaped bar draped in sports screens. Another wall’s covered in giant fish scales. At the back, a hanging 3-D arrow points down to the cash register.
“Order Here. Love Noods.”
I hitch up to the bar when a seat becomes vacant. “This is a soft opening?” says a guy next to me.
Good omen: they have 25 draft beers. Wish I didn’t have to work tonight. This crowded, excited atmosphere makes you want to celebrate. Second good thing is the buzz: everyone’s talking to everyone. “I had the chicken-and-noodle,” says this guy, Charlie. “Bit overboiled. But, crazy first day.”
“My salmon poke was perfect,” says Laura, gal he’s with.
“I was eating pho in Hanoi, Vietnam,” says Stacy, next to me at the bar. “And they actually had fewer fresh greens, like herbs and mint, than I see them giving out here.”
She’s just polishing off a “Tsunami” poke with ahi tuna.
Huh. Vinyl LP record’s spinning in front of us. It’s actually playing into the sound system. A staff member named Sarahdawn hands me the “soft opening” menu. It’s a single page. Choice of four noodle dishes. Pho ($12), ramen ($12), chicken-and-noodle ($10), and “skinny noods” (gluten-free) with yam noodles ($10). The rest is poke. For that, you choose your base of sticky rice, brown rice, or mixed greens, add raw ahi or salmon and a sauce, either sweet shoyu or spiced aioli. Then, you gotta decide between four flavor combos, Cali ($10) with avo, cucumber, nori (dried seaweed), and scallions; Nado ($11) adds things like purple cabbage and pickled ginger. Tsunami ($12) and Volcano ($12) include edamame, wakame (another seaweed), and jalapeño. That’s it.
“So, definitely no ramen?” I ask the bartender, Conrad.
He shakes his head. Ho-kay. I go for the pho (“bone broth, rare steak, rice noodles, bean sprouts, Thai basil, scallions”). Twelve bucks.
Grab a couple of black-lacquered chopsticks. I’m noticing a lot of chopstick skills around me. These West Packers know their noodles.
Ah. Here comes my pho. It steams and glistens with its transparent rice noodles and pink slabs of steak. Stacy says hoisin and Sriracha go best with pho, so I splot it all over, dunk the greens into the broth, and hoe in. It’s hot, but not heavy.
But this day ain’t over. After the soft-opening lunch, I call Carla, the official ramen addict of this family. Have to tell her the bad news.
“No ramen at a ramen joint? You kidding?” she says.
“Well, not till five. They’ve been slammed.”
“Bedford, you owe me. Wait till five. Get ramen and then get back! And don’t be mean!”
So, I hang around town till after dark, and now I’m heading back. OMG. I thought it was crowded before? Now every West Pac seat’s taken, there’s a crowd waiting to order snaking in a line out to the door, noise level’s up ten decibels. This is amazing for an opening day. I join the line behind a Navy dentist who’s behind a Navy doctor. Both are veterans of several West Pac tours. “After you’ve been cooped up 30 days at sea,” he says, “first thing the enlisted guys do is rush for a bar. My doctor colleague and I rushed for the most interesting restaurants. Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Philippines, they were all ports of call, and, see? They’re all represented on this menu.”
Oh, right. Now that I have a full evening menu in my hands, I see what the game is here. Each dish has the flag of the nation that created it. The pho ($12) has the Vietnamese flag, Dan Dan (“Carrying Pole”) Noodles with minced pork, bok choy, and peanut butter come from China, lumpia’s from Philippines, bulgogi beef tacos from Korea — a culinary West Pac cruise.
Line takes 20 minutes. I finally get to order the ramen, complete with soft-boiled egg, for Carla. Sneak a quick sample: sliced bamboo is tender and tasty and balances the rich flavors of the char siu (BBQ) pork chunks. The whole thing gets a boost from the roasted-looking corn and mushrooms — and dang, it’s delicious. Oh, and what I got for me: Burmese curry. It comes with sticky rice, chunk of white fish and tomato and lime. Costs, uh, $15. Honestly, the curry has tons of flavor, but I can see me begging ramen from Carla tonight.
1166 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Prices: Papaya salad, $6; shrimp skewers, $11; soup dumpling, $8; bulgogi beef tacos, $10; chicken skewers (4), $8; lumpia, $6; pho, $12; ramen, $12; dan dan noodles (with pork and peanut butter), $11; chicken lo mein, $11; Nado poke (tuna or salmon), $11; Tsunami poke, $12; Volcano poke, $12
Buses: 901, 904
Nearest Bus Stops: Orange at B Avenue (northbound); Orange at Loma Avenue (southbound)