Printed with the appropriately placed colon, U:Don's name has an emoticon smile embedded within it. The name, like the food, is quick and cheap, and like the concept, elicits an eye-roll. However cheeky and speed-oriented the humor and the service, time has clearly gone into the handmade noodles, and it is worth slowing down for them.
It's easy to see why this University District restaurant chose the assembly line, pay-at-the-counter service option. It keeps everything moving quickly, and works well with the easy-to-assemble noodle soups. When each soup is ordered, the fresh noodles are quickly boiled, the chosen flavor of hot broth or sauce added and it's ready to go before the diner moves through the line. The traditional broth was as bland as the décor, a translucent nothingness, offering only warmth and the perfectly textured noodles within. Flavored sauces, like the Tan Tan (spicy pork) option, offered a watered-down version of what they should be, but a step up from the traditional broth.
Much like the dichotomy between the noodles and the soup or sauces, the selection of snacks offered both excellent items (tempura-fried shrimp, which were warm and crispy) and ones that should be left under the heat lamps to wither (the Japanese fried chicken or kara-age, and the takoyaki, a type of octopus doughnut hole). Fresh dishes from the self-serve snack section fared much better, including the made-in-house pickles.
Overall though, it's hard to hold a few missteps against U:Don, not only because of the adorable smile the name offers. The pricing is dirt cheap, with noodle bowls starting $4.50 and the snacks even cheaper. The mediocre broth and only slightly better sauces are irrelevant when that kind of price buys you handmade noodles, thick, chewy, al dente, like the kind with which no store bought noodle can compare.