There’s a golden rule when it comes to Asian restaurants: If your chefs speak Cantonese, you’re golden.
That’s the case at the just-opened California Noodle House at downtown’s California casino.
California Noodle House replaces the former Pasta Pirate, and does so with some truly tasty food and signature cocktails.
At the moment, the restaurant’s hours are 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily.
Fair warning: The restaurant’s so new, there’s no information about it on the California Web site, so if we screw any of the following information up, it’s not our fault. If you’re going for “accuracy” or “research,” you might be reading the wrong Las Vegas blog.
The decor of this new restaurant is an oasis of warmth and understatement in the sometimes old-fashioned downtown casino dining scene.
The California didn’t cut corners, instead appointing the room with lots of lamps inspired by traditional Chinese lanterns.
We also appreciated the ceiling decorations inspired by dim sum steamer lids.
The layout of the restaurant is welcoming whether you’re in a group or flying solo. We love to dine alone from time-to-time, and our inset booth made for a feeling of privacy while having a great view of the decor and other diners. People-watching: It’s a thing.
We were immediately served some complimentary “shrimp chips,” accompanied with a spicy sauce that deliciously set the tone for the food to come. Unlike with restaurants that serve bread, which we also love, there was no risk of filling up on chips, as they’re crunchy and satisfying but light.
It took about three minutes to dive headlong into the signature cocktail menu at California Noodle House.
For some context, understand many of the regular customers at the California are visitors from Hawaii. So, it’s not surprising the California Noodle House features pan-Asian dishes popular with those visitors, and the cocktails have a tropical flair.
We went straight for the One Night in Hawaii ($9) with coconut rum, peach schnapps, Blue Curacao, pineapple juice and sour mix. The no-frills presentation belied its tastiness and resulting buzz.
California Noodle House also has a healthy selection of martinis ($10-11), beer and sake, the names of which we can’t entirely remember because it’s possible we spent more than just One Night in Hawaii, if you get our drift.
It’s possible there were also some non-alcoholic specialty drinks available, but what would be the point of those, exactly?
It was time for an appetizer, so we went with a classic, lettuce wraps. The lettuce wraps ($8) featured wok-seared chicken, mushrooms, onions, water chestnuts and a spicy black bean sauce. Oh, and also a peanut sauce so good you’ll want to take it directly to a drive-through wedding chapel. Or something.
The menu has a diverse selection, but not a huge number of noodle dishes. Taking up the slack are small bites like Cha Gio Chopsticks (Vietnamese spring rolls) and Firecracker Hot Wings (see below).
Also seeing a lot of action were the BBQ spare ribs, dry-rubbed and wok-seared with “volcano barbecue sauce.”
There are also salads (the Tuna Tataki, Sashimi Salad and the Noodle house salad), soups (served in awesome bowls, pictured below) and Large Plates including Braised Oxtail Stew, Vietnamese grilled chicken, blackened ahi, Korean short ribs and others.
There’s also a Family Style menu, with what foodies would describe as “big-ass portions.” There’s also dessert, but you won’t have room. If you do, try the mochi ice cream and let us know what you think.
If the menu sounds eclectic, it is. (Kung Pao Spaghetti, anyone?) That’s because cuisine in Hawaii tends to be a collection of ethnic foods from a range of Asian cultures, from Japanese to Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese, Filipino and Korean, and everything in between.
The California knows its customers, and from what we could tell, this eatery is already winning them over.
For an entree, we were leaning toward our favorite noodle dish, Pad Thai ($16), but the waitress mentioned it’s spicy (probably should’ve gleaned that from the “spicy sauce” mentioned on the menu), and recommended one of the most popular dishes with customers, the Beef Chow Fun ($14).
Again, outstanding, with stir-fried beef, wide rice noodles, bean sprouts and green onions.
Everyone’s dishes, including our own, seemed to fly out of the kitchen, and with good reason. The California Noodle House has an open kitchen, and watching the chefs at work made it clear they’re serious about their woks.
As we mentioned, several spoke Cantonese, so we get the feeling they know their way around a bamboo wok brush. The kitchen crew seemed to work seamlessly together, and the kitchen was oddly devoid of the chaos typically associated with a new restaurant.
Overall, California Noodle House hit all the right notes with its thoughtfully put-together decor, friendly and attentive staff (without being intrusively so), and the values are pure downtown.
One of our favorite downtown restaurants, Le Thai on Fremont East, is going to get some serious competition from this unexpected gem at the California.
Full disclosure: The California is a member casino of the Fremont Street Experience for whom we do social media, but our opinions are, as always, our own.
Enjoy a few more poorly framed and out-of-focus photos in our exclusive gallery below, and give the California Noodle House a try when you’re in downtown Las Vegas.
California Noodle House Restaurant