Update: To see the current vegan offerings at Noodles & Company and other fast food establishments, check out this post.
Recently the folks at Noodles and Company, a fast casual chain restaurant, contacted me about their vegan options. Started in Denver, Colorado, they now have hundreds of locations scattered across the U.S. I’d never visited one of their restaurants before, but I’d read positive things about them online. I took Noodles & Company up on a couple of free meals, and David and I headed to one of their locations earlier this week for dinner.
Before dinner, I visited their website, where they’ve clearly laid out nutritional information. Of the many things on their menu, there are six options for vegans (some that require modification) – Indonesian peanut sauté, Japanese pan noodles, pasta fresca, penne rosa, spaghetti, and whole grain Tuscan linguine. Tofu can be added to any dish, and they use organic tofu, which I appreciate.
When we arrived, I realized I hadn’t printed out the vegan options as I’d planned, but it was no worry. I asked at the counter for their nutrition information and was handed a laminated sheet with the same information that they have online – detailing which items work for various needs. David and I looked over our options, and one of the employees came out to see if we needed more help. David inquired about the Bangkok curry, and she looked through her sheet to see that there’s cow’s milk in the sauce and that’s why it’s not veganizable. I opted for the Indonesian peanut sauté with tofu and David had the pasta fresca with tofu.
The atmosphere is clean, airy, and informal. The general tone is similar to other fast casual chains like Panera, Sharkey’s, or Baja Fresh. By the drink area, they have bottles of Sriracha, and a stack of paper takeout containers.
It didn’t take too long before the food arrived at the table. The peanut sauté is vegan by default, and comes with a pile of rice noodles, stir-fried with broccoli, carrots, cabbage, sprouts, cilantro, crushed peanuts, lime, and added tofu. I ordered the regular size, but I could have easily done the small instead, because the portions are very large. (I took at least half home in a takeout container. That’s for the best, since I noticed later that a regular size is 830 calories and contains 2030 mg of sodium!) I was impressed that the sauce was actually spicy. Often in chain restaurants, the dishes are made on the blander side to suit a variety of tastes. The flavor was nutty with a noted stickiness, and the tofu was crisp. I wouldn’t say that I was blown away by the dish, but it was pretty good.
David’s pasta fresca contained penne with roasted garlic, red onion, tomatoes, spinach, and added tofu, and tossed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and white wine. (It generally comes with parmesan or feta, and of course, he requested no cheese.) The dish was mild but basic. It reminded me of a well done version of the vegan meal on an international flight. I think it could be improved with sliced olives and artichoke hearts for a little pizzazz.
In summation, I liked that the employees were warm and helpful and that they’ve made it easy on their website and nutritional information to know your options. I could see it being a place that would be easy to take kids, because of the laidback atmosphere that’s not at all stuffy. I don’t think Noodles & Company is a place that I’ll be visiting regularly, but it’s a welcome option for a quick lunch when guests of varying tastes come into town.
Disclaimer: I received two free meals from Noodles & Company, but the thoughts and opinions are completely my own.