Opened by Dr. Nick Hansa last April, the Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar has rapidly become a downtown favorite. The space was originally Newberry’s Department Store and has seen several incarnations over the past two decades, including an antique mall and more than a few ill-fated bar and restaurants. The space now has been totally remodeled into a contemporary dining room. Bright colors and beautiful art adorn the walls, creating a serene dining experience. The Food Dudes set out to explore this ever-so-popular restaurant on 19th and Eye streets.
Ray: I was excited when I found out our next Food Dudes’ assignment was at Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar. I had been to the Noodle Bar for lunch a couple of times and I have to say, the Noodle Bar has made an impression on downtown Bakersfield already. Each time I had been there for lunch, the place was packed with quite the lunch crowd and understandably so, since the food is great.
Gary: Thanks to Dr. Nick Hansa and his lovely wife, Pum, we have a delicious slice of Thailand here in Bakersfield. Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar has become a popular place for lunch and dinner in the heart of downtown for a very good reason — the food here is amazing! On the menu is a wide variety of authentic Thai and Thai/Japanese fusion dishes all made with no MSG, fresh ingredients and natural spices. With plenty of meat and vegetarian options on the menu, Chef’s Choice can accommodate everyone’s dietary preference. Go! You won’t regret it.
Appetizers, salads delight Food Dudes
Ray: The Food Dudes were exposed to a smorgasbord of appetizers on this visit. Our waiter made sure to take care of us and inundated us with the fresh shrimp rolls, ahi poke salad, avocado wonton and the chicken satay. All of the appetizers were great. I particularly liked the shrimp rolls wrapped in rice paper with lettuce, basil, vermicelli, cucumbers and carrots. Tasty. The chicken satay was also out of this world: chicken cutlets marinated in coconut milk and red curry paste, served with jalapeno, cucumber and sweet onion salad in Thai vinaigrette dressing with peanut sauce and toast on the side. Delicious.
Don: I love the avocado wontons. It looks like a flower and is served with sweet sauce. Crispy when you bite into it and then the flavor of avocado is nice.
Gary: I agree; the avocado wontons were a crunchy delight. Imagine deep-fried guacamole, add a little lime and Thai spice and, voila, you’ve got a tasty snack to please your palate.
Matt: The fresh shrimp rolls are made with fresh shrimp, lettuce, basil, vermicelli, cucumbers and carrots wrapped in rice paper. They make a great hot-weather appetizer or light lunch and are an unbelievably delicious, especially when you dip in the spicy peanut sauce. Double dip, if you feel the need. The spicy green papaya salad has always been one of my favorite dishes at Chef’s Choice and usually accompanies every meal I have. Traditionally prepared vegetarian style, our server suggested we try it with chicken and shrimp. Once again, he was right. The sweet, sour and roasted flavor combination over the chicken and seafood was a big winner with all of us. The slight heat kick at the end might surprise first-timers, but it’s pretty addicting and so delicious. We finished the plate off quickly.
The ahi poke salad is made with super fresh fish, cut and dressed to order so it doesn't get mushy or overly seasoned. It’s such a classic dish, and one of the most popular items on the Chef’s Choice menu. Portions are layered on a bed of mixed greens, carrots and red cabbage topped with wonton chips. Another summer delight.
Don’t be fooled by its name, Noodle Bar offers plenty of meal choices
Don: The name Noodle Bar can be misleading as they offer so much more! Chicken, seafood and beef dishes abound, and every Friday night, Chef’s Choice serves a wonderful Thai-inspired prime rib created by Dr. Hansa. My favorites include the drunken noodle. This is a spectacular entree that melds together intense sweet and spicy flavors. I would suggest the flat noodle for this dish. I’m not a fan of real spicy food, but I love this one. I would highly recommend any of the fried rice dishes, my favorite being the pineapple-fried rice. Matt ordered one of the many soups and it was huge! More than a meal. I ordered the Thai chicken. It was prepared with a sweet Thai sauce and the chicken was so tender it fell off the bone. It came with coconut rice — something you have to taste to understand. It was excellent.
Ray: For my entree, I chose the drunken noodle (pad kee maow). The drunken noodles are a popular choice, flat rice noodles with egg, onion, bell peppers and Thai basil. The noodles are stir fried and come with a choice of vegetables and your choice of beef, pork or chicken. You can also add large shrimp, vegetarian duck, or scallops for a couple of dollars extra. I chose the large shrimp. The noodle and shrimp combination was perfect, a little spicy, which is good, and had a good combination of vegetables and shrimp. It was the first time I had tried the drunken noodles, and I’m sure I will be back to have them again.
Gary: I love Thai food, and I especially love curry. On the recommendation of our waiter, Jeffery Marure, I ordered red curry with fresh mangoes (which was not on the menu). They brought it to the table in a small caldron steaming with the sweet smell of spices. The curries are served with your choice of white jasmine or brown rice. However, I took it up a notch and ordered the crab-fried rice to go with my curry. The crab-fried rice is one of their special fried rice selections and filled with jumbo lumps of crabmeat, onions and scallions. I’d also like to send a special shout-out to the chef that prepared the drunken noodles – he’s got the magic touch! Thai food is one of my favorites and the best in Bakersfield is at Chef’s Choice.
Matt: I’m such a fan of noodle dishes; it’s impossible for me to pick just one favorite. That being said, I looked again to our server for guidance. His suggestion: the Thai boat noodles, a source of pride for Chef’s Choice. According to the menu, all broths are original chef creations, plus there are four noodle choices: flat rice noodles, thin rice noodles, rice vermicelli and egg noodles. The special combo of Angus beef slices and beef balls atop a healthy helping of noodles looked appetizing. I took a dip into the broth to test its level of spiciness, before adding some chili paste to bring up the heat. This dish was rich in beef broth and my thin rice noodles kept their consistency while I added sprouts and experimented with a variety of flavors from our spice rack. This dish can be shared. A great deal for this much goodness. Besides noodles, curry should be a mandatory experience at any Thai fusion restaurant. We went with the red curry, mixed with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, bell peppers and basil. With a few scoops of white, steamed rice on my plate, I poured a generous layer over the top and went to town. It’s rich, but oh-so-good. I was tempted to try the other four varieties of curry on the menu, but I held back. It’ll give me yet another excuse to come back.
Savor your meal with different choices in drink selections
Ray: The noodle bar has a large selection of beers both bottled and on tap, including a number of very popular microbrews. Spoiler alert, many of the dishes are very spicy, so an ice-cold adult beverage may come in handy during your meal. There is also a large selection of wines available.
Don: Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar also has a large wine selection, and each month on a Saturday, they offer a beer tasting. For under $35, more than 10 beers are offered and paired with several Thai dishes. They also have periodic wine dinners featuring Central Coast wines that can pair quite well with their food. One of my other favorite things about Chef’s Choice is the food presentation — often presented as art on a plate. Take a good look at the other dishes being served around you. I’m sure you’ll be impressed.
Bring on the dessert
Don: We were all stuffed but had to try a few of the many dessert options. My favorite was the fried bananas and coconut ice cream. It was beautifully presented and tasted amazing. The crunch of the banana with the softness of the ice cream was great.
Matt: Imagine four grown men with just a little room left for dessert. I wasn’t letting these guys out of my sight until they joined me for some coconut ice cream with Thai fried banana. The sticky rice with mango slices was every bit as good and recommended for rice fanatics like myself. Sweet and easy to eat, it’s a traditional ending to a perfect meal.
All around great restaurant staff
Don: I’m a regular at Chef’s Choice. One of the best things about dining there in addition to the food is the staff. All of them are courteous and well trained. They know the menu and can easily recommend dishes and combinations that work well together. Our server was Jeffery Marure, and he was fantastic. He kept up with all of our orders and was able to suggest several items on the menu that were wonderful.
Matt: I enjoyed every dish thoroughly. Good prices, creative flavor profiles, and beautiful presentation. Service was on point upon our arrival and throughout our visit. If you’re ever in the downtown area, you must check this place out. Lots of room, which I like a lot. The adjoining banquet room can also accommodate large groups and if you’d like a little privacy, request the portable walls for some personal space. There is so much to love about Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar. Bring a date, a group of friends or family and prepare to have your taste buds transported to another part of the world.