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Tea House Oodles 

The Noodle King broadens his empire.

Cleveland's Noodle King, Richard Baribault, struck out with Teaka, his healthy-eating spot in Westgate Mall, but it looks like he's hit a homer with his second downtown Tea House Noodles location, at 1701 East 12th Street (216-592-0000).

The outpost, which opened July 2, is good news for lunch-hour fans who get weary from waiting in line for Baribault's veggie-spiked noodle and rice bowls, served with savory sauces and topped with optional proteins like tofu, shrimp, and chicken: Unlike the cramped original (which continues to operate at 1900 East Sixth Street), the spacious new spot has an efficiently designed order counter, 14 tables, and even a handsome private room for midday meetings.

The eats are nearly identical at both restaurants, although Baribault has added a Four-Bean Medley to the new menu as another optional topping. A colorful blend of black turtle beans, red kidney beans, caramel garbanzos, and bright green edamame, the medley is delicious ladled onto flat rice noodles and slathered with a half-and-half mix of mild Thai peanut sauce and fiery Rica-Rica sauce ($6.95).

Baribault, a charming original who intersperses his conversations and his menus with bits of new-age and Eastern philosophy, has also launched a third noodle house in Athens, Ohio, and hopes to expand his kingdom to college campuses around the state.

As for Teaka, his attempt to take enlightened eating to the suburban masses, it closed around the end of May. "Nobody ever went there," says Baribault. "It was a mistake from the start."

More downtown digs . . .

Food guy and former DJ Max Bowen is back in business with his recently opened 9th Street Grill (2030 East Ninth Street, 216-579-1360). Besides massive 15-inch subs, overflowing salad bowls, and freshly made ground-chuck burgers, the long, narrow room, which has housed eating establishments since at least the 1930s, offers authentic urban ambiance, with its vintage oak-and-marble bar and dark wood paneling.

Other attractions at 9th Street Grill include a daily variety of homemade soups, a solid selection of draft beers, and lots of Beatles memorabilia from Bowen's private collection -- much of it amassed during his days at WMMS. Grill hours are 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday; call ahead for quick carryout, or grab a seat.

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