From the owners of critically acclaimed Pestle Rock in Ballard comes Sen Noodle Bar, a soon-to-be favorite.
Our town was made for soup. The sooty dusks of November. The deep, shivery dampness of January. We dive into caldrons of smoking coffee. Why not soup?
Here now is Sen Noodle Bar, part of a mini fiefdom, from the same folks behind critically acclaimed Pestle Rock next door and Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai Cuisine across the street.
Sen is a clean, well-lit spot against the soggy February night, its hues as bright as a sarong.
Sen Noodle Bar
2307 N.W. Market St. (Ballard), Seattle; 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Tuesdays. (206-735-7668)
Bowls arrive piled and fragrant, with liquid isles of fiery looking chili oil. Steam rising.
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Maybe you wait. Maybe you slurp.
Giant bowls range from $11-$14. Those topped with prawns, scallops and cod go for $16.
Naysayers and expats will snicker that this comfort food costs less than $10 on any street corner in Asia. Those trolls also don’t pay the high rent in Ballard.
The menu: Unlike the two neighboring Thai restaurants, Sen hews to no borders. It’s a little bit of Japan, China and Malaysia along with a few other stops around Southeast Asia.
The noodle soups can be mixed and matched, with wide rice noodles, thin rice noodles, egg noodles, wheat noodles and spinach noodles, paired with different proteins, from duck breast to seven-spice beef stew.
But why bother? Order one of Sen’s four specialty soups that have already been thought out, each layered with different flavors (pork spare ribs or boiled egg) and textures (fried wonton chips and tofu).
Starters include fried snacks like wings and plantains. Some stir-fried dishes and fried rice are listed on the back page. But you see the name of this restaurant and you know what to order, right?
Sen is one of the best Asian restaurants to debut in recent months.
Don’t miss: Start with a plate of dumplings, wontons really, as appetizers. They’re steamed, then bathed in chili oil and fish sauce and dusted with garlic, ginger and peanuts. Salty, sour and spicy, they will make you want the wonton noodle soup. Your instinct is right. Sen’s variation comes with barbecue pork made in-house, leaner but more savory than those hanging Chinatown meats. The bowl comes with juicy morsels of pork dumplings, crunchy with sprouts and with copious amounts of egg noodles, onions and cilantro in a clear, spicy-sweet pork broth.
Southern Thai is what Sen does best. One such dish is Guay Tiow Khaek, a light coconut curry soup, zinged with chili oil, served with thick, starchy wheat noodles, topped with shrimp, scallops and chunks of cod filet. It’s spicy and sour. Eat at warp speed like you would ramen while the noodles are still al dente.
For a snack, get the Kai Arai, a boiled egg cocooned in a fried, breaded mashed potato shell; it’s scented with curry and rich with a sesame mayo for dipping, a Scotch egg without the sausage.
What to skip: The stir-fried version of Japanese Sukiyaki had mushy bean noodles and rubbery seafood from cooking a minute too long in the fiery wok.
Prices: A sample menu of dumplings ($8), Kai Arai ($7), wonton soup ($12), Guay Tiow Khaek ($16) and Suki Hang ($16) totaled $59 before tax and tip, enough for three.