Frugal Foodie: Bobo Noodle House
Zoe Robinson’s Bobo is anything but so-so.
Vegetarian Pad Thai: A rare case where garnish becomes key ingredient.
Photograph by Katherine Bish
We all know of the mostly good-natured antagonism between St. Louis city and county, between North Side and South Side. But what about, say, the Loop vs. the Central West End? Whereas the Loop’s eating scene is top-heavy with cheap Asian outposts, the Central West End has a few sushi places and not much else. And whereas the Loop’s kumbaya attitude embraces coeds and the crunchy, CWE’rs prefer things sleek and chic.
Meeting in the middle—geographically, aesthetically, price-wise—is Bobo Noodle House, in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood. If it were located up on Delmar, it would stick out like an over-manicured thumbnail.
Bobo is the creation of Zoe Robinson, owner of the much-missed, eponymous Zoe Pan-Asian Café. Its Southeast Asian menu comprises spring rolls, a couple of salads, and lots of pho and noodle dishes—easy dining choices for both students and yuppies well-versed in this sort of dining. Robinson’s new restaurant resembles her former one: a black-accented, minimalist effect, though Bobo boasts perhaps the most rococo lighting fixtures I’ve seen since Moulin Rouge. Think chandeliers made of…tissue paper? Bleached Tibetan prayer flags? Origami cranes? Whatever they are, they are an automatic conversation-starter.
Unlike at Zoe, service at Bobo is fast-casual: Order at the counter, pay, then pick a table and wait for plates to be delivered. Real plates, glassware, and silverware are used, and I dare say that my water glass was refilled with as much frequency as if I were dining at Tony’s. The black-clad counter staff makes a point of coming out on the floor to check on diners regularly. On the flip side, lest the college crowd think all this too much grown-up fuss, the eatery’s signage includes such Generation Text phrases as “Yum Now” and “Empty Bowl Fill Stomach.”
Happily, what folks from all walks of life will agree on is that the food is bountiful, quite reasonably priced, and very well executed. “Yum Now” would be the perfect phrase to describe the vegetarian pad Thai, the base a bed of seared egg noodles that possessed a smokier flavor than normal, a lip-smackingly good chili peanut sauce, and a verdant bounty of red onions, green onions, red peppers, shredded lettuce, tofu, and—why not?—shredded mint leaves. Like pretty much everything I tried at Bobo, this dish’s spiciness was calibrated just right.
As far as “Empty Bowl Fill Stomach,” well, the servings are so big that the former is much harder to achieve. They’re like two-for-one specials. And there’s a lot of big in the bowl, such as the quartet of fist-sized vegetarian dumplings in a wonderful pho, the pretty-much-perfect spicy salmon atop seaweed and mint, or the slabs of delicious tuna sashimi bedded on a micro-greens salad. Though the greens were deflated somewhat by an overly oily dressing applied too liberally, the sashimi’s wasabi accompaniment was wisely served on the side.
There were several other notable but not terrible disappointments. I was sold on a salted shrimp appetizer being “awesome” and “amazing,” but I found it to be perhaps the only underwhelming item on the menu. The shrimp were a bit wimpy, the yogurt sauce for dipping too sedate. And the wok-seared seafood noodle dish—a steal at $12, an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet unto itself, piled high with shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, red onions, and red peppers—was inexplicably founded on a thicket of crispy egg noodles. Aren’t crispy noodles meant to be a garnish, not the starch on one’s plate? Udon noodles would make this dish fantastic.
These are quibbles. Bobo is one of St. Louis’ most recommendable (and affordable) new dining experiences, made even more so by a lovely selection of beers and desserts that give each meal unexpected grace. Whether this taste of St. Louis is more Loop than CWE, or vice versa, the distinction is rendered meaningless by the food’s quality. Bobo should taste great to everyone who tries it.
The Bottom Line: Stylish and sleek 30-seater with superior noodle dishes and spot-on spice levels.
278 N. Skinker
11:15 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. Mon–Fri,
12–10 p.m. Sat
Average Main Course: $10