I am totally over plates, all flat and played out. Aren't you guys? Seriously. Bowls are so much better. They are curvy and keep all my food in one place, in a lump or pool. I like to hold a bowl in my hand. I like foods that come in bowls, such as noodles. And soups. And noodle soups.
At Than Brothers Pho (516 Broadway E, 568-7218; and five other Seattle locations, see www.thanbrothers.com) pretty much everything comes in bowls (yesss!). I've been eating at Than Brothers since I was in high school, so I fuckin' dared the reader reviews to tell me something I didn't know about Seattle's creampuff palace. Prolific Restaurant Guide reviewer Fnarf starts out with a no-brainer: "They have pho here. If you don't want pho, don't come here, but if you want pho, COME HERE." Check! Knew that! Than Brothers Pho definitely has pho.
I went to the Than Brothers on Aurora (7714 Aurora Ave N, 527-5973) because Fnarf describes it as "better, if a little seedier." Right again. I love the Aurora Than Brothers, and I love Aurora. If you're going to eat cheap food, the venue should be at least a little bit crappy. It just makes sense. (I'm already bummed out about the day when Aurora gets "revitalized.")
The disgruntled Zymyrgy, whose review is elegantly titled, "Meh. Weak, weak brothsauce," accuses Than Brothers of hating him: "The proprietors seem to have secure locks at the sides of their jaws keeping them from smiling or uttering more than a monosyllabic grunt." To test out this theory, I smiled at the lady serving me. She smiled back. I asked how large the extra-large pho bowl is. She said, "It's pretty big. You want to see?" and held one up (it's fucking huge).
The soup (small veggie, $4.35) was obviously awesome. As I usually do, I threw some Sriracha into my brothsauce. Then, remembering Fnarf's assertion that "the Sriracha sauce can creep up on you," I threw in some more. Bring it, Fnarf. Then, minutes later—oh snap! The Sriracha, keepin' it on the low, had totally crept up on me! I have officially been schooled by Fnarf. Goddamnit. We bought extra creampuffs to go ($1.50 for three).
Nana's Soup House (3418 NE 55th St, 523-9053) is entirely darling, and entirely devoted to soup. At this particular lunch hour, a dapper man played tinkly medleys on the piano. The girl at the counter said she liked my glasses. Stranger reader reviewer Shroom Lover, who is clearly high, recommends the wild mushroom soup ($3.50 for a cup), which I ordered. It is a life-changing soup: creamy, tangy, intense. My friend got the vegan chili (WHY?), also for $3.50, and pronounced it "boring" (duh, because it obviously needs cheese and animal bits). She also let me have some of her corn muffin, which is basically baked candy—in the best way. There's only one dissenter among the reader reviews, a man named Tim K., who accuses Nana's of being "fairly pricey for what you get." He is wrong.
Things are just super weird over at In the Bowl (1554 E Olive Way, 568-2343). My dining companion, who used to live across the street, warned me up front that she is not a fan (I believe her exact words were, "That place is kind of gnar-gnar," which is, of course, short for gnarly). I don't know if I'd go quite that far—"gnar-gnar" is pretty harsh—but I wasn't thrilled.
The reader reviews tell a different story. First of all, Kinkos declares it the "BEST PLACE EVER." Sorry, guy. Places I like better than In the Bowl: my bed, California, the forest, Szechuan Noodle Bowl (420 Eighth Ave S, 623-4198). Next! Kinkos suggests, "Develop your own noodle-bowl fetish by trying it out." Um, noodles are not sexy. This is the last thing I want. "Hella spicy," writes Fluteprof. Yes. That one is true.
As per nearly everyone's suggestion, we ordered the Melting Cultures appetizer ($6.95). It was, as promised, both weird and good: a bowl of lumpy brown peanutty goop with a coconut-milk floater, served with tasty grilled-bread wedges. It is also "hella spicy." Not to be out-spiced again, I carefully ordered my entrée (see-through noodle, $7.75, with fried tofu, "homemade soy and mushroom sauce," cabbage, green onion, and pineapple) at a sensible spice level of two. But again, hella spicy! Aside from that, I didn't taste much. My friend said not a word about her curry.
I can get behind the appeal of In the Bowl. The place is cute, convenient, and cheap. They deliver. They're obviously trying their very, very best, and that's worth a lot. (But I still don't want to have sex with a noodle, Kinkos.)