Expanding Horizons

Sampling the Old and New Austin-Area Restaurants That Are Changing With the Times

Thai Noodles Etc.
Thai Noodles Etc. (Photo By John Anderson)

Thai Noodles Etc.

17051 FM 1325, 246-8005

Sunday-Monday, 11am-9pm
When I think about restaurants in Round Rock, the first things that come to my mind are the same old national chain names that plague America's highways. Considering the incredible number of excellent restaurants in South Austin, I rarely have a reason to eat in the far-north areas of the city. I have, however, been known to travel far and wide for a new experience, especially if it has anything to do with food. So, when I heard about Thai Noodles Etc., I felt it was worth the trip to the suburbs.

Thai Noodles Etc. is not an entirely new thing. It is the sister restaurant of the location with the same name on the Drag, and most famously, of the much-beloved Satay restaurant on Anderson Lane. What is different about this place is the new concept that Dr. Foo Swasdee, again on the cutting edge of food trends, has come up with for her newest endeavor. The store at Round Rock is her prototype for a franchise restaurant to get into the "quick, casual" market, something similar to what Schlotzsky's has done in Austin and around the country.

Thai Noodles Etc. sits in the middle of a generic-looking Round Rock strip mall. But don't let the unassuming surroundings fool you. Inside, the atmosphere is comfortable and casual, and the décor playful and engaging without being overwhelming. The idea here is to provide good and healthy "fast food," or rather "food, fast," at reasonable prices, to eat in or take out. The friendly staff takes your order at the counter, always willing to offer suggestions and help guide you through the rather ample menu. The open kitchen design allows you to watch as your food is being prepared.

For starters, Thai Noodles Etc. is not just about noodles. There are many options to choose from, including appetizers, salads, soups, and stir-fries, aside from the mind-boggling selection of noodle dishes that the restaurant is named after. For appetizers, the spring rolls and handmade dumplings are all very good, but the Thai Basil Dumplings With Chicken ($4.95), served with a sweet soy sauce for dipping, were our favorite.

On a hot Austin day, a big bowl of Thai Beef Salad ($4.95) would be a perfect meal, fresh and satisfying, but not extremely heavy. In this version of the classic Thai dish, the beef is sliced and stir-fried in a wok rather than grilled whole, then sliced. The meat is fully cooked and flavorful, served atop an Asian salad mix, garnished with fried wonton strips, with a refreshing hot-and-sour lemongrass dressing on the side.

Now, on to the entrées: There are the huge noodle bowls, which can be ordered with or without broth. Bah Mee ($5.95) has steamed egg noodles with your choice of meat, plus bean sprouts, napa cabbage, Thai soy sauce, topped with crispy fried garlic. The broth was mild, with a hint of star anise that gave it a very exotic and rich quality. Bangkok's Fire ($6.95) is a delicious blend of flat rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, surimi crab meat, and assorted veggies, topped with that wonderful fried garlic and swimming in a spicy lemongrass broth that made my spring allergies run away screaming. The Golden Triangle ($6.95) is my favorite so far, with egg noodles, veggies, and choice of meat (pork was great) in a rich and spicy broth, flavored with yellow curry and a hint of coconut milk.

My goal now is to go back and try the other five noodle bowls before too long.

There are other excellent stir-fried noodle dishes. Foo's Pad Thai ($6.50) has been an Austin favorite since she introduced it at Satay in the 1980s, and it is still as tasty as ever. The other stir-fried noodle dish we tried was Silom ($6.50), an outstanding wheat noodle dish with broccoli, tomato, onion, Thai basil, and chili, with your choice of meat, in a thick, slightly sweet soy sauce. A good option for those who can't make up their mind and choose among the many enticing offerings on the menu is to try the lunch buffet, which features many of the popular favorites and other daily selections. If anyone has room for dessert after enjoying the big portions of delicious entrees, the Siam Ruby Rice Pudding ($2.95) is excellent, served warm with a spoonful of coconut cream on top. Or, you can choose a lighter option and have the sweet Thai Iced Coffee ($2.25) drink for dessert.

It's good to know that the people of Round Rock have a restaurant alternative that they can be proud to call their own, an Austin-owned and -operated business which offers the convenience of a fast-food outlet, without the grease. For the same price of a fast-food sandwich, a bag of chips, and a drink, we can enjoy a real meal, healthy and delicious. Now even I have a good reason to endure the 45-minute drive to Round Rock, knowing I'll be instantly rewarded once I get there.

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