When eating out with children, you're lucky if you can find a restaurant offering at least one of the following qualities: a.) cheap b.) fast c.) (moderately) healthy. A few places around town hit the trifecta: Blue C, El Camion, and Easy Street Cafe are good examples. The same goes for the University District's U:Don, a student-fueled spot featuring bowls of brothy goodness just off 45th St. on University Ave.
When U:Don opened late in 2011, food blogs and noodle-lovers took note, with the restaurant making a brief appearance on Eater's Heat Map last year. One reason for the hype is the perfectly firm and chewy homemade udon. Another? The price.On a recent Friday night, U:Don's core of diners on a student budget was rounded out by families and retirees. Turns out $6 for a medium bowl of hot noodles in February has everyone's attention for good reason.
The serve-yourself cafeteria-style set-up means that by the time you grab a tray, order noodles, top them with extras like free tenkasu (tempura flakes), and add on items from the tempura bar, dinner is ready. There are a couple of booths built for larger groups, but families of four or less will find it easiest to navigate the open, simple eating area.
Since it's best to slurp udon noodles while they're hot, kids requiring room-temperature food will do better with chilled instead of broth-based menu items. Fresh scallions and ginger can be added from a side dish when you order the zaru udon, with toppings and sauce resting next to a mound of foot-long noodles. For kids, the meal becomes a time-consuming game of cutting, dipping, and slurping.
The health factor of broccoli may cancel itself out when it has been dipped in tempura and fried. But it's still satisfying to watch your kid gnaw on two or three pieces of battered vegetables that would normally rest limp next to a plate of pasta or mac and cheese. The serve-yourself tempura average $1 a piece, with a smaller price tag attached to veggies like kabocha squash.
If you have a few minutes to kill before heading to the restaurant, show your kids this video profiling master udon-maker Shimizu San over on Serious Eats. It will give a little more context about the tradition behind their forthcoming meal.