Slurp-worthy soups and more

Wednesday, January 26, 2011; E03

The owner of Mazu and Sushi AOI, neighboring Asian restaurants downtown, recently closed the former to enlarge the latter. In the process, Chatree "Charles" Kiatrungrit turned the original sushi spot into a noodle joint. He's calling the replacement Noodles on 11, a reference to the dining room's entrance on 11th Street NW.

The multiple changes were born out of frustration and hunger, says Kiatrungrit. Frustration because the kitchen of Sushi AOI was too small to allow the menu to expand. Hunger because when the restaurateur and his staff craved noodles, they felt their choices were limited to places that served only one cuisine rather than a variety.

Noodles on 11 solves their problem by dishing out bowls with Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese flavors. Among the 30 or so small pleasures are pork broth alongside slices of sweet roast pork, bedded on thin egg noodles; lemon grass broth over a choice of egg, rice or cellophane noodles (try it with shrimp); and pho, which I enjoy with beefy meatballs and slices of jalapeno. A creamy green curry deftly balances heat with sweet. When I learn that Noodles' chef, Arun Phanitdee, comes from Thailand, I am not surprised.

Look to the chalkboard for specials: maybe bite-size dumplings stuffed with juicy chicken and shrimp, served with a nest of carrot threads and sweetened with a sauce that suggests molasses in the blend. They are a much better launch to a meal than the ordinary spring rolls or the under-seasoned Chinese greens.

Noodles on 11 is a mere 55 seats squeezed into a compact setting whose makeover involved little more than fresh paint. The food comes out fast, so even if there's a cluster at the door, the wait is rarely long.

Want to save a little money? Customers who pay with cash at Noodles on 11 get a 5 percent discount on their tabs. That's the amount Kiatrungrit says he would otherwise be giving to credit card companies for the pleasure of using their services.

1100 New York Ave. NW. 202-408-3377. Noodle dishes, $8.95 to $11.95.

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