Soon after moving to South Florida, I discovered and fell in love with Hot & Soul, a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the back of the Coral Center Mall, across from Target on Federal and Oakland Park Blvd.
Alas, I discovered it shortly before it closed, but I still include it in my list of favorite restaurants in the area. Imagine my delight when I was at the South Florida Food & Wine Festival and discovered Noodle Station had taken over the spot. While the management and menu are very different, I can see this becoming one of my favorite restaurants.
The menu focuses on three items; bowls, baos and beer, and while I’m not a major fan of the last of those, the other two are among my favorite treats. The bowls can be enjoyed three ways, soup, stir fry or as a salad. The basic bowl starts with your choice of noodle, protein, fresh seasonal vegetables, broth, and house-made sauces. Noodle choices include ramen, soba, udon, rice, sweet potato, or veggie noodles. If you opt for soup, there are a half-dozen broths or so from a clear vegetable stock to a hearty and spicy Asian soup. Sauces can add additional zing. Then you pick the veggies and protein (BBQ tofu, hoisin glazed brisket, candied Hajiki bacon, soy-marinated hardboiled egg, or five-spice chicken).
If you don’t feel like making a decision, they have suggested combinations available. Soups, salads, and stir-fries average $13-20 bucks, baos are $8 for a pair (on Tuesdays and Thursdays they throw in a third bao and charge $8.50 for any combo) or you can add one to your bowl order for $3.50. The beer selection is just as varied as the rest of the menu, with drafts and canned offerings from micro-breweries.
The service model is similar to Chipotle, pick your ingredients, move down the line, and pick up your order. The difference is that the folks behind the line are personable and knowledgeable and seem to really enjoy their work and take pride in their product. It’s fast-casual dining with high-quality food.
3045 N. Federal, Fort Lauderdale
Although I don’t have as many fond memories of the space formerly occupied by Too-Jay’s Deli across the street from Noodle Station, I was surprised when it closed as suddenly as it did at the beginning of the pandemic. The space sat empty for a while and, driving by recently, I saw a sign indicating that it had reopened as a Mexican restaurant. We stopped in the next night and were pleasantly surprised by its new occupant, Casa Monarca. While it hasn’t had a chance to fully spread its wings and take flight yet, I am optimistic, if our recent visit is any indication. They’ve added lots of Mexican art, including many dia de los Muerte-themed pieces, and added amber-globed chandeliers which warm up the otherwise cold space.
The service is sunny and eager to please. Our server, Josie was particularly sweet and the food, while not highly refined or fancy, is good classic Mexican and Mexican-American fare. Appetizers include mini-chimis, filled with chicken or beef served with guacamole & cheese dip on the side. The Mexican classic street food, elote, showcases griddled corn on the cob smothered in butter, mayo, and cotija cheese. A sampler comes with, taquitos Mexicanos, mini-chimis, cheese quesadillas and chicken wings, served with cheese dip and avocado dressing. A bargain at $16. Nachos can be topped with shredded or grilled beef or chicken, grilled shrimp, carnitas, or ground beef.
The rest of the menu features the standard offerings: tacos, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, and quesa-birria tacos as well as soups, salads, and entrees such as carnitas, carne asada, steak ranchero, a cheeseburger, or grilled chicken breast (with traditional mole, or topped with chorizo and melted cheese).
Seafood lovers will enjoy the pescado Vallarta (lightly breaded fish fillet with grilled red, green & yellow bell peppers, onions, and zucchini), shrimp ceviche, sautéed shrimp in a garlic mojo sauce, or the tower of seafood (shrimp, octopus, scallops, and fish ceviche) with layers of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions.
You can also create your own combination plates ($10 at lunch, $13 at dinner), served with rice & refried beans. At dinner pick two items (taco, tamale, tostada, burrito, enchilada, chili relleno, and quesadilla) and your fillings (shredded beef, shredded chicken, ground beef) cooked with onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Vegetarian filling options include cheese, beans, veggies, or spinach.
Dessert options are $7 and include fried ice cream in a cornflake crust, churros, flan, tres leches cake, sopapillas, and lava cake, but we were too full to try any of them, as tempting as they were. Drinks were large and strong and range from a simple shot of high-end tequila to large exotic concoctions.
It looks like this may be the location in which we make many memories.
Casa Monarca Restaurant & Tequila Bar
2980 N. Federal, Fort Lauderdale