One of the best Asian restaurants to debut in Seattle this year, Reckless Noodle House brings the fusion of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China to the Central District.
Reckless Noodle House feels like a 30-something expat’s Vietnam clubhouse, a surfer-dream landscape of the mind as much as of the map.
A thousand shark-jaw bones adorn one wall, and on another is a magazine collage of deeply tanned guys and gals climbing and surfing, and generally living their best lives.
That seemed like an apt metaphor for Bryce Sweeney and Mario Eckert, who held court behind the bar recently, rattling up $6 happy-hour margaritas while schmoozing with patrons, seeming to have the time of their lives. Reckless Noodle House, inspired by their excellent adventure around North Vietnam, has become one of the year’s surprise hits, filling up regularly on a usually quiet drag.
Opened in January on the outskirts of Leschi, Reckless Noodle House burst out of the gates with social-media buzz and never lost momentum. It grew more confident by the day, taking more risks and expanding with more ambitious — and pricier — Asian-fusion dishes.
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It may be Vietnam-inspired, but that’s its least interesting offering. Better are the mishmash of Cambodian, Thai and Chinese cuisines, under the helm of chef Kenny Lee, formerly of the underrated Lionhead on Capitol Hill.
Lee, who is Chinese, grew up in Cambodia and Thailand and was influenced by his mother’s cooking of Southern Chinese cuisine; it’s obviously his comfort zone. He confidently melds different Sichuan spices along with exotic flavors from the two Southeast Asian countries. His Vietnamese dishes feel more timid.
His beef-cheek vermicelli and Sichuan noodle dish are among the best Asian dishes I have tasted this year. The former is served in a curry broth — neither as thick nor as sweet as the familiar Thai take. It’s Cambodian-inspired, brimming with pungent shrimp paste, a tinge of lemongrass and served with beef cheeks that have been braised in pho spices and Shaoxing wine.
That succulent beef cheek is the centerpiece of his other standout, Chinese Ma La noodles; his come in a beefy, gravy-like sauce, still familiar with that peppercorn-coriander Sichuan scent. That floral, spicy, oily sauce gets served with a tender beef hunk along with wheat noodles that resemble al dente bucatini pasta.
His fried rice is a cross between Bangkok street food and something out of Mission Chinese Food in New York City — turmeric coconut rice wok-fried with cubes of pastrami and two eggs, one fried, the other scrambled, and mixed with chili, basil, tomato and cucumber.
On Vietnamese dishes, the little details were off. Grilled rib-eye nuggets wrapped in betel leaves lacked the charred flavor. The rice paper in the grilled pork rolls was mushy. And the trendy Northern Vietnamese fish dish, Cha Ca La Vong, had meek dill-and-turmeric flavors when those should be the dish’s clarion call.
The menu: Lots of small plates and entrees that can be shared. A dozen appetizers and starters from papaya salad to fried and fresh rolls range from $3-$12. Larger portions (noodles and wok-fried dishes) range from $14-$22. Happy hour is a steal: a $6 craft-cocktail list from Aviation to a barrel-aged Negroni, though the $6 margarita and Moscow mule are more popular. Happy hour runs 4-6 p.m. on weekdays, 2-4 p.m. on weekends and also every night 10 p.m. to closing.
The bill: A sample bill of a happy-hour margarita and craft beer ($12), pork roll (happy hour $4), fried rice ($16) and wok noodle ($18) totaled $50 before tax and tip, enough for two for dinner.
Reckless Noodle House
Vietnamese/Asian fusion; 2519 S. Jackson St., (Central District) Seattle; 206-329-5499, recklessnoodles.com; open Mondays-Thursdays 4 p.m.-midnight, Fridays 4 p.m.- 2 a.m., Saturdays 11 a.m.-2 a.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.