I am on a mission. I am an awestruck freshman and when I realized the richness and variety of restaurants on Franklin, I made it my goal to eat at every restaurant on Chapel Hill’s famous street before I graduate. Although I have plenty of time to accomplish this lofty (and expensive!) goal, I cannot possibly waste my precious money on silly chain restaurants I can find back home.

I assumed that Noodles & Company was, while certainly more gourmet-sounding than K&W Cafeteria, yet another one of those unremarkable buffet restaurants, until I actually gave it a try.

Noodles & Company, which opened at the beginning of this semester, is a cozy restaurant that can be discovered down the west end of Franklin. One peek into the homey-atmosphere of this small bistro is enough to make you want to curl up with some good old Chicken-Noodle Soup (which you can, in fact, do!).  The long, hanging lamps are bright and the tall wooden beams holding the roof give the allusion of a secret attic. However, what is more welcoming than the design of this restaurant is the hospitality of the staff.

Every staff member wore a colorful T-shirt with a different label across the back (my favorite read: “Noodle Ambassador”), and the girl who took my order offered up very helpful recommendations (you’re going to want the parmesan chicken).The menu is quite varied, you can choose a small or large pasta dish from three different ethnic categories; Asian, Mediterranean and American. Under each noodle dish is a description and coordinating protein recommendation (braised or sautéed beef, shrimp, chicken, parmesan crusted chicken or tofu). The menu also includes a variety of soups and salads from which to choose.

Three minutes after placing my order (no, they are not fast food, but yes they really are that fast), I ended up with the three most popular dishes from each category:

Japanese Pan Noodles—these udon noodles are served in soy sauce with broccoli, carrots and mushrooms, and topped with bean sprouts. Although the menu warned that these noodles were sweet, I wasn’t prepared for just how sweet they were. The noodles are rather thick and difficult to eat. The flavor, although at times overwhelming, is a great refresher.

Mediterranean Penne Rosa—possibly the most delicious noodle dish I’ve ever had! The tomatoes were very fresh, the spice just right, and the noodles al dente. This dish I ordered with the recommended parmesan-crusted chicken. The chicken was cooked just-right and had a delicious garlic taste to it.

American Wisconsin Mac & Cheese—this macaroni was topped with a divine cheese sauce and freshly shredded cheese that melts in your mouth. Eating it reminded me of the macaroni my grandmother cooks whenever I am home.

For the health conscious, Noodles & Company has committed to providing its customers with nutritional facts that can be found at the register. All customers are also given the liberty to order their pasta anyway they would like; with tomatoes, less spicy, extra cheese, two proteins—and still have it come out in less than three minutes. Take that, K&W.

By Shannon Spain