Not a lot of lo mein to get excited about
In military parlance, West Pac refers to the western Pacific, which may include Hawaii, Japan, and much of southeast Asia. As a military brat, I grew up familiar with the term, and ultimately spent time living in West Pac myself, where I recall eating plenty of noodles. Because, regardless of where I’ve lived, a noodle dish has always constituted comfort food.
1166 Orange Avenue, Coronado
So when West Pac Noodle Bar opened in Coronado, I could get behind the concept. Heck, I was willing to look past the restaurant’s tendency to refer to its noodle dishes as “noods.” (Just to be clear, if the place were called West Pac Noods Bar, I promise I would have never made it through the front door.)
A tourist friendly location keeps the noodle bar hopping
I did make it inside, though, and found a good looking dining room, built around a bar backed by white subway tiles and colorful fish scale artwork. Though happy hour had concluded, most of the bar seats were full, and plenty of tables as well. A patio section, parallel to the Orange Avenue sidewalk, proved equally busy.
Whether undermanned or overtasked, the wait staff didn’t seem to have a moment to spare to seat one more, and I was forced to hover for ten minutes before an alert busboy offered to set me up at an outside table. He would prove my saving grace throughout the meal. Though unable to take my order, or issue my check, neither of these transactions would have taken place had he not been vigilant about tracking down my harried waiter, time and again.
To be fair, that’s not a deal-breaker for me. I don’t exactly make it easy on restaurant staff. I’ve got questions about the menu, and if you’re unlucky enough to have answers, I’ll have follow-up questions that will probably require consultation with the chef. For example, what is the idea behind “velvet chicken?”
Apparently, that’s West Pac menu speak for chicken breast poached in a broth seasoned by cardamom, ginger, and anise. It’s a feature of the lo mein I ordered — at my server’s recommendation — over options ranging from ramen to dan dan noodles.
Whereas everything else moved slow, delivery of the food came quick. The “Shanghai noodles” described by the menu turned out to be thick wheat and egg noodles, stir fried with scallions, carrots, onions, sesame seeds, and Shitake mushrooms. For $13, it wasn’t a large portion, but a reasonable amount of food considering its Crown City location.
That said, I detected nothing velvety about the chicken, which had the generic taste and texture of having been reheated rather than cooked fresh. The noodles had a rubbery elasticity that might have been all right had the dish not been dominated by sodium and overcooked garlic. The bar part of the formula works: I was grateful to have a crisp local beer to wash it down.
Based on the combination of uninspiring food and less-than-stellar service, what does this place have that its crowd was so lively on a Thursday night? Location. West Pac Noodle Bar seems to have touched upon that magic formula of a tourist restaurant, designed to serve mediocre food at favorable price points to a customers who aren’t worth impressing because they’re just going home to Seattle, or Saint Paul, or Virginia Beach anyway. It may sound cynical, but there will always be a new set of tourists arriving next week, in search of comfort food. Maybe in search of noods.