Downtown Dumplings

Popular Marco & Luca

People have recommended Marco & Luca's Noodle Shop on the Downtown Mall to me for the past three years that I have been a student, and time and again, I have been admonished for not following this advice.

Recently I was told of a new, must-try restaurant located on the Corner. It was none other than Marco & Luca. How could I have passed up this opportunity when it presented itself to me each day on my way to class?

I managed to make my move before the snow hit Charlottesville last weekend. Located next to Take It Away Sandwich Shop on Elliewood Avenue, Marco & Luca is an easy walk for any student on Grounds.

As I approached with my friends the restaurant seemed empty, but when I opened the door, I realized my mistake. Put simply, it was packed. Not an inch of standing room was left, forcing me to wait outside with my friends.

Either the service was horrible or the food was just that popular. I waited to find out. Fortunately, the crowd dispersed quickly and I was soon near the register.

Stepping up to place my order - the menu only had five items! - a small sign quickly caught my attention. "Only cash and check orders accepted." Panic engulfed me. Having trusted my debit card during the entirety of my adult life and hardly remembering what cash looks like, I was rightly flustered.

I dug around my wallet and came up with a $5 bill and several $1 bills that had been gradually filling up my wallet during the past year. With $12, I figured I would pick an item, or maybe two, if I was lucky. Imagine my surprise when I realized that each item was only $2 or $3! I was able to buy almost every item on the menu - everything except for the sesame noodles - for $11.50, including a soda. I was even more delighted to find that among the shop's soda choices was Mr. Pibb, which I find to be infinitely better than Dr. Pepper.

I received my meal on a cafeteria tray, each dish in a separate Styrofoam container. Although the packaging was hardly inviting, the contents looked delicious.

I began with the dumplings, as I had heard so much about them already. Moreover, five people seated near me had their own orders in front of them. They did not seem out of the ordinary in comparison with dumplings I have eaten elsewhere, but two traits made them stand out. First of all, the sauce is perfect: a savory flavor with the right amount of spice. And at $3, the price is unbeatable.

I also ordered the hot veggie bun and hot pork bun at $2 each. These giant rolls both came with the same sauce as the dumplings, evoking a similar flavor, but were much more filling.

There were two noodle choices on the menu at $3.50 each - sesame and sweet and spicy. I chose the latter and I have no regrets. The sweet and spicy noodles were served cold with sliced apples on top. When paired with the noodles, the fruit tasted surprisingly good.

While I ate, I watched the two cooks behind the register make fresh batches of dumplings, each order served piping hot. I like to think of myself as someone with a big appetite, but as I surveyed my meal, I grasped just how much food I had ordered for the small amount paid. The only thing I managed to finish were the dumplings - the rest I offered to my friends to scavenge, a task that they enthusiastically undertook.

When we were done, I let out a contented sigh for my satiated belly and glanced at my watch: It had been about 30 minutes. As we departed, I looked back at the restaurant, knowing that I will return frequently to Marco & Luca's Noodle Shop. And I will be sure to remember my cash or checkbook the next time that I visit.

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