The eccentric seating in Lao Wang includes a punching bag within a round table. Josh Rhodes / Daily Nexus

As the site of numerous club fundraisers and Greek life events, Lao Wang has cemented itself as one of the most social and vibrant restaurants in Isla Vista. The quaint noodles, buns and brew spot just across the street from the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house is a top dining destination in Isla Vista that can satisfy nearly all hunger cravings.

Feeling ravenous after watching the first half of the NCAA men’s tournament final between the University of Connecticut Huskies and the Purdue University Boilermakers, I decided to pay a visit to the Asian eatery with a signature vibrant, sometimes stadium-like, atmosphere. 

Lao Wang has a unique aesthetic compared to most restaurants in Isla Vista. Boasting an interesting ensemble of paint colors — ranging from lime green, brown and white — and decorations — including a boxing bag in the center of the dining area — the restaurant’s joy is infectious, spreading naturally even before the first bite.

Lao Wang has three main menu items: rice bowls, bao buns and noodle bowls. Going off the recommendation of the cashier, I decided to order a Lao Wang “Mala Tang Noodle” bowl. The bowl is a create-your-own style meal, offering customers the ability to customize their order through different broths, noodles and toppings. Customers can pick three toppings total, ranging from your standard meats to quail egg and enoki mushroom. Already included toppings are napa cabbage, green onion, cilantro, garlic and peanuts. My egg noodle bowl with chicken, enoki mushroom and quail eggs in the classic broth cost $16.48, taxes included.

The customizable egg noodle bowl above features chicken, enoki mushrooms, and quail eggs. Josh Rhodes / Daily Nexus

Initially, I was very put off by the price of the noodle bowl as it’s over $4 more than Lao Wang’s rice bowl and definitely more expensive than most main course meals from other I.V. restaurants. As I waited for my order, I found myself asking, “Can this noodle bowl really justify such a high price?” I’m happy to report that despite breaking the bank a bit, I was overjoyed with my noodle bowl and definitely got my money’s worth in terms of quality. 

Immediately, the main standout was the broth. The broth was warm and creamy and tied all the other ingredients in the bowl together. I added some vinegar, chili oil, soy sauce and a peanut sauce to the broth per the recommendation of a regular customer, and this made the broth even better. 

The egg noodles were also amazing and complimented all the other ingredients. Smaller and skinnier than similar ramen noodles, I really enjoyed how Lao Wang’s noodles didn’t take up a lot of space in the bowl, making room for all the other toppings I chose. The pairing of peanuts and napa cabbage was surprisingly enjoyable. 

If I had to be honest, the chicken left a lot to be desired in terms of taste — it was dry and lacked substance in my opinion. However, the broth more than compensated for the chicken’s lack of flavor. Overall, the bowl and the broth taste were comparable to a quality Japanese ramen dish. 

I would give the Lao Wang “Mala Tang Noodle” bowl a 7.5 out of 10 stars. While I really enjoyed my meal, I definitely still experienced some buyer’s remorse with how much the bowl cost. All in all, Lao Wang is a restaurant that embraces I.V.’s social culture with style. The fun, vibrant atmosphere of the eatery is the perfect place for a dinner with friends and family, and is certainly worth a visit.

A version of this article appeared on p. 8 of the April 18, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.