Growing up in San Diego, I had a next-door neighbor from Japan. Her daughter was older than me, so I didn't play over there as much as my big sister did, but when I occasionally got to enter their home, I found the smells of whatever was cooking to be intoxicating. The salty, rich scents permeated the whole house and always made me hungry, even though I was too young to even know what was being created in that kitchen.
In City Heights, 777 Noodle House serves dishes from Vietnam and Thailand, and though those countries are quite a ways south from Japan, following your nose through the front doors of the noodle house evokes many of the shared flavors of the region: fish sauce, garlic, onions and the starchy glue of noodles and rice.
It doesn't jump out at you from its place on University Avenue, but 777's immaculate interior (I think I smelled bleach on my water glass) is spacious enough to feed an entire community.
Call me a Philistine, but what's wrong with a menu with pictures? This noodle house's expansive menu handily includes poorly lit photos of its delicious dishes. There are plenty of tasty appetizers to choose from, though don't expect your food to come in any sort of traditional restaurant sequence. Every time I've eaten there, my main course arrived long before my appetizers. No worries; the final destination of all that food is the same.
You could easily make a light lunch out of the Leek Cakes—three oniony disks, battered and lightly fried until hot-as-the-sun, with a doughy filling bursting with leeks and tons of green scallions. The oily, garlicky dipping sauce gently soaks into the fried meal, permeating the steaming patty with another layer of flavor.
The fried shrimp rolls are simple, modest and addictive. Ten soldier-straight pink shrimp are swaddled in a wonton skin, fried to a scalding crisp and served with a side of vibrant, spicy chili sauce that's perfect for cooling off your shrimp pops.
Though it's now officially summer, May and June were gloomy enough for a warm bowl of soup filled with noodles, meat and veggies. The Wonton Egg Noodles at 777 hit the spot. The salty, slightly fishy broth comes laden with ground pork balls wrapped in soft wonton skins; long, tender noodles perfect for slurping (and dripping down the front of your shirt); and thin slices of pork that come in that odd shade of red that doesn't look quite natural but usually means they're going to taste excellent. This is a bowl of medicine—a tonic for a stuffy nose, or even just a gloomy outlook.
For a more rib-sticking option, I enjoyed the French Beef. Eat this dish while it's still very hot—that way, you can ignore the fact that you're not getting the highest quality cut of meat. The beef is quite chewy, but it's coated in a rich sauce hinting of tomato and beef stock that reminds me of the au jus of a French Dip sandwich. But thicker. And all over your plate. Soaking into your rice. Awesome.
I asked about the origin of the restaurant's name, and from what I could glean, the owner had a good run in Vegas and liked the lucky connotation of triple 7s. With that kind of history, you might want to hit up the lottery-ticket vending machine near the entrance.
The toughest portion of any lunchtime outing at 777 might just be Fox News blaring from the wall-mounted flat screen. Normally I can tune out a little background asshattery, including the random elderly focused ads about investing in gold, but once Glenn Beck came on, I almost lost my appetite.
Next time, I'll bring earplugs along with my empty stomach.
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