Since returning home to the Sunshine State from living abroad in Asia, I haven’t had much interaction with noodles. I don’t frequent the Vietnamese places in town (although I should!) and I think Nissin ramen noodles from the M.D. Oriental Market have made up most of my noodle intake for the last year. Hence my excitement when I was invited to try a new Asian Noodle Bar. Jubao Palace at the Hard Rock Hotel Tampa is an Asian game room and the Noodle Bar there brings a mixture of Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine nearby. In case you didn’t hear last year, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is the 6th largest casino in the world which is pretty impressive for Tampa Bay.
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My visit was left with complete creative control to me. My mission: to experience the Noodle Bar however I like and report my experience back to my readers. I walked up to the Noodle Bar (after getting some help from the staff on where to go) and there it stood – the Noodle Bar with probably about 10-15 seats and it was packed. I was actually surprised by the very diverse clientele, you had your Asians (always a good sign) and also plenty of non-Asian diners who were curious what all the fuss was about. The kitchen is open which is a smart way to draw in hungry visitors.
Noodle Bars like the one at Jubao Palace are commonplace in Asia and can be found in pretty much every corner and building. The most unassuming alleyway leads to a delicious and affordable meal. Japanese and Chinese people are addicted to ramen, Vietnamese to pho, and noodles are just a way of life in Asia. In America, we usually associate noodles with instant noodles which is a shame because most American instant noodle producers fail to capture the savory flavors of the cuisine and also cheapen the prized product to such a low standard.
The waiting area could be a little more organized, you don’t want to stand too close to someone who is eating like you are rushing them, but there is no real waiting area. In Asia, this is avoided by allowing diners to look at the menu before they sit at the bar and placing an order before they sit – since actually serving the noodles takes no time. I would recommend this to speed up the wait time at the Jubao Palace Noodle Bar. After a fairly short wait, I nabbed a seat and sat down to begin my journey into the Jubao Palace.
I perused the menu for some time, I can be very indecisive at restaurants but I tried my best to make a decision since I knew other people were waiting for their time to eat at the bar. For my appetizer, I decided on the Thai Tea and Vietnamese Summer Rolls.
I am a picky Thai Tea consumer. I visited the praised Tampa Wat Thai Temple long before the crowds and media found it, way back in 2006. The freshest Thai Tea there and the ones I have had at dozens of restaurants have shaped my opinion of Thai Tea into a very picky one that wants just the right amount of creamer and Thai Tea. I like the taste of the tea to be strong enough that it is not lost in the creamer (see what I mean when I say I am picky?). Anyway, I am happy to report that the Thai Tea at the Jubao Palace Noodle Bar was just right and something that even a picky person like myself will enjoy. The tea is fairly priced at $2.50 which is the standard price you would probably pay at a Thai restaurant. It was refreshing and went very well with the Vietnamese summer rolls.
Vietnamese Summer Rolls were once my favorite restaurant appetizer and found their way onto dozens of restaurant menus, even at corporate chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and California Pizza Kitchen. I had far too many disappointing summer rolls though and was eventually turned off to the dish. The best ones I had were with Vietnamese friends when I was in the Vietnamese Student Association at USF and we hand-made them with some rice paper, shrimp, and veggies. The Vietnamese Summer Rolls at the Noodle Bar were delicious and also very large. The peanut sauce was excellent, very fresh and enjoyable. Despite their size, I devoured them and they probably only sat on the plate for a few minutes. The rolls regularly cost $5 which isn’t a bad price either for an appetizer.
For my main course I ordered the Duck Soup with Rice Noodles (I never pass up an opportunity to have duck). The noodles came out lightning fast, even before I had finished my Vietnamese Summer Rolls. I caught some cool footage of the kitchen while I was sitting at the noodle bar and also some footage of my dish.
The soup broth was excellent. I was feeling a little under the weather and it made me feel incredible by the time I was done. The duck was savory, although the bones did make it a bit of a tough dish to eat, especially with chopsticks. The rice noodles were excellent and enjoyable. I like that the soup didn’t scream of a strong fish sauce taste, which might actually make some Asian diners feel unimpressed with the dish. The soup was solid and tasty and well worth the going value of $12 with the amount of duck on the dish.
As I was finishing up the soup I had the chance to talk with Chef Mike who is fairly new to Tampa from New York and doing big things at the Hard Rock Hotel in Tampa. Chef Mike has over 12 years of experience in the Asian restaurant industry. He told me about his plans to evolve the menus at many of the Asian restaurants the Hard Rock including the Rock N’ Raw restaurant and was just a completely nice guy. I am hoping he gets to enjoy the food around Tampa and that he can bring fresh new flavors to the different restaurants at the Hard Rock with his New York experience. Chef Mike was actually featured in the March 2013 issue of Florida Asian magazine: AsiaTrend.
Overall, I had a great time at the Jubao Palace Noodle Bar and can recommend it to diners at the Hard Rock Hotel Tampa who want to explore an Asian Noodle Bar – something not found in Tampa. It’s also open late and an option if you’re craving noodles late at night. The amount of interest in the Noodle Bar apparent by the crowd forming around the bar as I was getting up was inspiring and certainly makes me think that Tampa’s food scene is just getting started with new exciting restaurants.
Restaurant Name: Jubao Palace Noodle Bar
Neighborhood: Northeast Tampa
Cuisine: Asian, Chinese, Vietnamese
Address: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 5223 North Orient Rd. Tampa, FL, 33610
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 12PM-2AM, Friday/Saturday: 12PM-4AM
As a bonus there will be a giveaway for two $25 gift cards from the Hard Rock Cafe. Enter below and go try the Jubao Palace Noodle Bar for yourself.