January 29, 2003

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cheap eats
by dan leone

Old news

IT HAD BEEN a particularly depressing ride to the city and what I really needed now was a bar. Wouldn't you know it? There one was, just like that. God bless cities. And it was my kind of bar exactly, the Thai World Best Noodle Bar. 'Cause, much as I like to have my hand around the neck of a bottle of cheap red wine, times like these, nothing drowns my sorrows like a big steamy bowl of duck noodle soup.

Duck noodle soup. It echoes in my empty head like "beer" in Homer Simpson's. All Thai restaurants have it, and it's always intoxicatingly delicious. You can't go wrong with ducks and noodles and soup. You can, but Thai restaurants rarely do.

Thai World Best Noodle Bar puts spinach in theirs, and spinach makes you strong, so this was just what the doctor ordered. The place too. On the bar to your left as you walk in there's a colorfully fished fish tank, and behind the bar, lit up like a museum piece, is a collection of world-famous chopsticks.

The walls are 49er red with framed photos of noodle dishes. Hanging from the not-quite-49er-gold ceiling is a little tiny disco ball. There's also a big-screen TV, and more than enough little-screen TVs for the size of the place, which is not particularly big. "We are open for lunch, dinner, and karaoke every day," boasts a sign in the window (except no lunch Monday and Tuesday). And they stay open until 2 a.m.

I was there around 5:30, 6, all alonesome. There was one other diner in the place, and that was an old old-timer sitting all alonesome in the middle section, between those decorative wooden posts with the old-time lantern lamps on top. I don't know what he was eating; I only know that the waiterguyperson had to help him to the door afterwards, so it must have been good.

I thought, Man, with a little luck and a lot of duck soup, that'll be me some day, getting helped to the doors of restaurants. Being old. Being old must be a lot like being young, I mused, except you already know the alphabet. State capitals. Long division. And you can't run as fast. You have to play cards instead of soccer, after a certain point, I'd imagine, and then you're going around always almost dead all the time. But that's cool too, because now you don't have to worry about cholesterol. Anyways, it's got to beat being in the middle, all angsted out all the time over time and shit.

Then my soup came and I had better things to think about, like how good the soup was. The soup was great. It had lots of everything in it, and the duck still had the skin on it. In fact, the duck was mostly skin. Skin's my favorite part.

The spinach, added fresh and added last, you could tell, was all tucked into one side of the bowl, looking greener than green. The green onions were exactly as green as green. The broth was dark and rich and just all-around ducky. What a soup!

While I was eating it, what I was looking at was Polaroid snapshots of revelrous karaokers which were under all the glass tabletops. On the big-screen TV, Chuck Norris was dappling in underwater kung fu. The waiterguyperson and another guy, who might have been the cook, were mesmerized. Then the boss man came in, wearing a beret, and changed the channel to the news.

More bombs in the Middle East, fixing for war with Iraq, Mariucci ...

As soon as the boss man left they clicked back over to Chuck Norris, but the fight was no longer in the swimming pool. I sank back into my soup and the next time I looked up there was a basketball game on. Inexplicably, the waiterguyperson was shadowboxing to it. He had a roundabout left uppercut that looked like it might maybe do a little damage if he didn't get pounded down with two or three succinct rights in the meantime. But I'm no trainer.

Big bowl of duck soup, for the record, goes for $6.95. All the other noodle soups go for $5.95, and there are plenty of other noodly dishes that aren't soup for $6-$8. Rice dishes too: $6-$8. And they have combination lunch specials for $6.95.

Karaoke doesn't get going until 10:30 p.m., but I think you'll enjoy this place's festiveness even at 5:30, 6, on a Wednesday. It cheered me right up, I can tell you. I nursed my way to the bottom of that bowl of noodles, and then I lifted it to my lips and tilted back the last drop of broth. Then I set it down almost too solidly on the glass, wiped my mouth on my sleeve, and waited for the waiter to come walk me to the door.

Thai World Best Noodle Bar. 1968 Lombard (at Webster), S.F. (415) 923-1014. Mon.-Tues., 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Wed.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Takeout available. Beer, wine. Discover, MasterCard, Visa. Wheelchair accessible. Dan Leone is the author of Eat This, San Francisco (Sasquatch Books), a collection of Cheap Eats restaurant reviews, and The Meaning of Lunch (Mammoth Books).