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Good Morning, Vietnam

At South Reserve and Mullan, there stands a shopping complex with a number of stores, businesses and restaurants. And one restaurant there has been changing and evolving for years, trying to fit in with Reserve Street’s urban sprawl while the street itself has attempted to become an accepted part of the city.

In the beginning, the restaurant was Brewster’s Roasted Chicken, then it changed hands and atmospheres a number of times, going to Oriental, and then Tibetan, and now, finally, Vietnamese. Just two months ago, when Vietnam Noodle Express opened its doors with an unusual menu and high hopes, it marked perhaps the fifth restaurant to make a go of becoming the final tenant in that ever-changing storefront.

The menu at Noodle Express is different. There are no vegetarian items to be found; even the seafood dishes are spiked with pork or beef for added flavor. The portions of the meat dishes are ample, though, almost too ample to enjoy in one sitting. Some of the most distinctive items on the menu are the steaming, brothy noodle soups, which can be a little confusing to eat, brimming as they are with thick cuts of meat or seafood and rich rice or egg noodles. The best way to eat it appears to be with a combination of chopsticks and Oriental ladle, although many of the restaurant’s patrons can be seen using forks or the good old-fashioned slurp-from-the-bowl method.

Grilled spiced chicken, pork chops and lemongrass-marinated beef are also offered, with substantial helpings of chopstick-worthy rice or rice noodles. All of the grilled meat dishes are served with an unusual sweet fish sauce and a few thick cuts of cucumber and tomato. An assortment of homemade appetizers is also available: fresh fried or steamed meat-filled dumplings served with a miso-soy sauce; rice-papered spring rolls stuffed with steamed shrimp, pork, noodles and an accompaniment of peanut-carrot sauce; deep-fried imperial rolls; and imitation-crab Rangoon. Any two of the appetizers are enough to make a sizeable meal. A selection of Vietnamese teas and specially-made beverages also grace the menu, with choices ranging from strong and black to tapioca-laced.

The Vietnam Noodle Express serves the same unique menu from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day. It might be one of the final chapters in Reserve Street history, as the city’s most outcast street tries to make yet another worthwhile offering to Missoula.

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