Noodle Palace bun

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s most curious about Santa Rosa’s Noodle Palace: the Pepto pink exterior, lumpy parking lot, the hand-painted sign on plywood, trying to figure out where the door is, the untouched faux-cantina interior left over from Mi Rancho, or the fact that I never get exactly what I order.

Somehow they all add up to awesome.

Operating on a shoestring, these Pho Vietnam veterans have quickly won a neighborhood following with their idiosyncratic eatery. And it’s  welcome addition to the north end of Petaluma Hill Road —  a virtual restaurant wasteland (aside from Lola’s and a few taquerias).

Says BiteClubber Jim: “The food is typical Vietnamese/Asian noodle fare, cheap, fresh and tastes great; they are already proving very popular with the locals.”

The menu’s a combination of Vietnamese pho and bun, rice plates, egg rolls and spring rolls and off-menu additions like chow fun (wide noodles fried with vegetables and meat). So far, no bahn mi, but if enough folks start asking…

Beef Balls Pho

The vibe: Clean and friendly, with excellent barbecued beef and pork. Pho-eaters (which I am not) give the soup solid marks, though I can say from experience that beef balls are an acquired taste that I’m not planning on acquiring anytime soon. It’s a texture thing really. Beef add-ins include rare steak, tendon, tripe and brisket, along with seafood (crab, fish balls, squid, shrimp) and chicken.

Shrimp salad ($6.95)is a standout, with crisp lettuce, cilantro and spicy fish sauce. Bun (vermicelli noodles, $6.50 to $7.45) is remarkably similar to the versions at Pho Vietnam and Simply Vietnam — meaning lunchtime heaven, even if they did forget to put the egg rolls on mine. Chow fun is slick and slippery (as it should be) with tons of intriguing veggies and the perfect amount of gravy. Ask for it dry if you’re looking for a little more wok hai.

Shrimp salad

Devotees will cheer at finding soy bean milk, coconut juice, sweet red beans, and jellied tapioca in coconut milk on the menu. But fresh lemonade served in an ice cream glass? It’s part of the Noodle Palace experience: Unexpected. A little weird. Ultimately awesome.

*Bonus: Look for the hidden money in the walls. Don’t take it, cause that would be horrible. Just look around and you’ll find it.

Noodle Palace, 1310 Petaluma Hill Road, 528-1548. Open M-Sat 10:30am to 9:30pm; Sunday 10:30 am to 8:30pm.