By: Kim Swanson & Emily Edwards
March 19, 2004

"Jenni's Noodle House serves up delicious Vietnamese noodle dishes with serious attitude."

The blaring disco hits, rack of feather boas, walls filled with goofy pictures and artfully arranged noodle dishes on colorful plates suggests that Jenni's Noodle House is not going to be your normal Asian dining experience.

Jenni's Noodle House serves up delicious Vietnamese noodle dishes with serious attitude. Menu items include everything from vermicelli to shrimp soup to a long description of the humiliation endured by poor, unfortunate souls who request spicy food, feebly attempt to continue to eat while their tongue is on fire, give up and request their order less spicy.

Rife with stipulations, the menu also explicitly states that no half-orders, splits, tap water, whining or free ass grabs are allowed. Diners often order tap water in restaurants to reduce the cost of their meal; however, Jenni's Noodle House clearly never received that memo. Griping aside, 12 ounces of bottled water costs only 50 cents. The menu also presumptuously indicates that parties of five or more will automatically be slapped with a 20% gratuity. However, once the food arrives, diners quickly forget about their indignation and hurriedly dig in.

What Jenni's lacks in diplomacy, it makes up in its scrumptious food. The coconut-curry bisque in the Infernal Chicken Curry delightfully blends coconut milk and curry to form a broth that is rich and flavorful, with just enough zip to necessitate purchasing at least two more bottles for water is profitable, albeit audacious.

Tender chunks of chicken and al dente potato halves soak up the creamy broth, making this Vietnamese version of hearty 'n' potatoes fare more exciting than what 19th-century farmers ate. This excitement only comes as a result of the unconventional sauce that transforms as otherwise simple dish.

The addition of presumably freshly-pickled mushrooms to the light crystal noodles and succulent shrimp of the Good Karma Noodles make the dish somewhat visually surprising. The slightly spicy sauce and the distinctively concentrated taste of the mushrooms make this dish an original and exciting spin on Asian noodles.

The real gem of Jenni's Noodle House are Jenni's dumplings. Voted the best dumplings in Houston by the Houston Press in 2002, a plate of five steamed or pan-fried hunks of either chicken, beef or veggie goodness are a must-order. Dipped in jalapeno-ginger soy sauce, these dumplings are guaranteed to satisfy even the most discriminating tastes in Asian food.

Bottled water and automatic gratuity aside, Jenni's prices make the heaping plates of steaming noodles and mouth-watering dumplings taste even better. With the menu divided into "$9 Meals, $6 Deals and $3 Steals," even the stingiest college diner can make a complete meal (or even two, if you're creative) for under $6. You might have to pay $9 for a bowl of soup, but if you order a $9 noodle dish, you're guaranteed dinner for two nights. And the eclectic, chatty and very helpful staff might even charm you past resenting the imposed 20 percent.

Prompt and smiling, the entire wait staff (including the owner and chef Jenni) stopped by our table to give their personal suggestions on dishes, to inquire about the food and recommend a Friday night visit to observe and participate in "Boa Night," where patrons sport feather boas and dress in drag. When wires got crossed in the kitchen and two incorrect dishes arrived at our table, the staff handled the mishap apologetically and professionally.

Low prices, carefree atmosphere and incredible dumplings override the slight tendency towards over-simplification of dishes. The overall experience leaves the diner wanting to return as soon, this time on Friday to experience the added spice of "Boa Night" to give the overall dining experience the zest it was lacking to be truly exceptional.

Overall: 4 stars (out of 5)
Food: 4 stars
Atmosphere: 5 stars
Value: 4 stars


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