Chinatown · Vietnamese

Pho City

Sunday was freaking chilly! After I finished running my errands, I felt like eating something hot and satiating. I remembered Foodkarmablog’s post on the pho dac biet at Pho City. Even though it was well past lunch, this spot was still busy. For this post, let’s listen to “Waiting” by Nora Jones.

The restaurant is modern and ideally set up for the downtown office lunch rush. Near the front of the room is a long communal table for solo diners. Service is fast and friendly. Within ten seconds, I was promptly greeted and given a menu and a glass of water.

Based on Foodkarma’s recommendation, I ordered a regular-sized Pho City Special Noodle ($14.50). Ah – now this is a good bowl of pho. Pho City nailed the temperature and the flavour of the broth. The soup was so hot that even after dumping all the chilled bean sprouts and basil into the bowl, the broth was still warm enough to cook the vegetables. The soup itself tasted slightly sweet and nurturing.

The noodles were bouncy and al dente. I loved how the chewy pieces of tripe would get tangled into the noodles. I took longer than usual to eat, and the noodles got a little too soft for me at the very end of the meal. So next time, I’ll eat more of the noodles first and then save the meats and vegetables till the end.

The generous amount of noodles was proportional to the amount of sliced beef, tendon, brisket, tripe and beef balls. What I loved about this bowl was that every single ingredient tasted fresh. I enjoyed each meat’s individual texture and flavour, though I found the meatball a little salty.

I felt cozy and warm after finishing my meal. Pho must have some medicinal powers on my eyesight. The trees and sky looked more animated in colour when I left the restaurant. Hitting the Sauce gives Pho City two phat thumbs up.

Fusion · Vietnamese

Pure Street Food – Part Two

On Sunday, Bex.oxo invited me to National Geographic Live. Before the presentation, we planned to dine at Maven, but the 1.5-hour wait deterred us. So instead, I suggested First Street Hall & Bar, as I knew Bex.oxo would find something she liked. Let’s listen to “Delicate” by Taylor Swift for this post.

We stopped by for a coffee at Alforno. As we sipped our cappuccinos, I showed Bex.oxo around the market. She noticed all the vendors are notable restauranteurs in Calgary’s food scene. I had the best intention of checking out Actually Pretty Good and La Mano, but I remembered seeing Foodkarma’s post on the dry noodles at Pure Street Food. I’m a sucker for a good recommendation, so I ordered the Hu Tieu Mi Kho Noodles ($15) and Spicy Bo Kho Brisket Sesame Donut ($6).

What blew me away was the sesame donut. The shell was thin, light and crackled when I bit into it. The brisket was so tender; I barely had to chew. The crowning glory in this donut was the layers of fresh basil, chilled cucumber and crunchy carrots. I noticed as the donut chilled, the flavours became even more pronounced. For me, this was like a banh mi but intensified. We both didn’t use the dip. We felt the donut was flavourful enough and didn’t need anything else. 

The Hu Ties Mi consisted of wok-tossed egg noodles, char sui, ground pork, spring greens, slices of fish cake, and a side of rib bone soup. The portions are so generous. I made Bex.oxo eat some of my lunch. I was instructed to sip the soup independently rather than mixing it into the bowl. I loved the broth’s flavour, which was so vibrant and lively. The big piece of rib meat was soft and meaty. I would order the soup again.

The sauce on the noodles had a robust spicy kick to it. The noodles were chewy, soft and sticky. There was so much char sui, ground pork, and noodles, the portion was big enough for two meals. 

The spring roll was killer – thick and densely packed with a savoury filling. I thought this was one of the better Vietnamese spring rolls in town. You can tell there was no scrimping of ingredients or love. 

I’ll have to come back and try another vendor other than Pure Street Food. Old habits die hard. But if I died that afternoon, I would have passed away happily. The sesame beef donut was one of the best things I’ve eaten in 2022.

Banh Mi · Cheap Eats · Vietnamese

Banh Mi Date #11 – Secret Vietnamese Cafe

I’ve wanted to try Secret Vietnamese Cafe ever since I watched Jeff’s Channel on Youtube. Now that I work in the Beltline, I have the perfect opportunity to further my goal of eating at 19 different banh mi shops. Eleven down and eight more to go! Let’s listen to “Nothing’s Going To Stop Us Now” by Starship.

Secret Cafe has a cozy coffee house vibe, unlike the more utilitarian banh mi shops in Calgary. I noticed several extensive menus posted on the walls when I walked in, showcasing pictures of sandwiches, pho, noodles, curries, appetizers, and Vietnamese subs. When I told the female owner I wanted a banh mi, she recommended the Special Combo Sub ($8.99). She asked me if I wanted my sub spicy. I responded in the affirmative. Pro tip – unless you can handle the heat, don’t ask for spice. My tongue was on fire for hours. 

The cafe was busy with regulars who knew the owners. Two customers ordered the lemongrass pork vermicelli when I was there, and another person ordered pho. Several people came in to pick up their order. 

I asked for no cilantro but still got it anyway. No biggie, as it was easy to remove. I enjoyed the crushed peanuts and the rich flavour of coconut milk in the beef. I also liked how the whole sub was warm – from the toasted bread, melted cheddar cheese to the hot, tender pieces of pork, chicken and beef. The thick slices of carrots tasted lightly pickled. The cucumber and onions were thinner in width. 

How does Secret Vietnamese Cafe compare to the other banh mi heavy hitters in Calgary? The vegetables come in coarser chunks. I prefer the delicate crunchy layers that Thi Thi has mastered with cucumber ribbons, razor-thin onions and julienned carrots. I like the freshness of Secret Cafe’s meats, which I found better quality than To Me Subs. I prefer the lightness and crumb of Banh Mi Nhu Y and Trung Nguyen subs over the heavier bread at Secret Cafe. Price-wise, I thought Secret Vietnamese Cafe offered better value than Kim Anh Sub but had less of a flavour bomb.

I noticed the owners like to banter with each other while they work. If you know of or have grandparents who emigrated from China, you’ll know what I mean. I don’t get homesick anymore, but if I needed a dose of old-school love, I’d come here to soak up the memories.  

Restaurants · Vietnamese

Rau Bistro

One of my favourite cuisines is Vietnamese food. Pre-COVID, I would host make-your-own salad rolls and hotpot-style dinners for my friends. However, after dining out at Rau Bistro, I realized my homestyle version sucks in comparison in terms of variety, quality and technique. For this post, let’s listen to “Hit That” by The Offspring.

L and I ordered the Wrap Two Combo ($20) and one Seven-Course Beef Set ($35). Next time, I would pick the beef set and not the Wrap Two, as the items in the wrap combo are also in the beef set. Instead, I will order the Shrimp and Yam Beignets ($12), Bun Man ($15), and Bun Bo Hue ($15), which I hear from trustworthy sources are stellar choices.

The beef congee was homey and oh so delicious. At Rau, the soup is more broth-like and not the thick and fluffy style you find at Chinese restaurants. I appreciated how the soup was served boiling hot, which allowed the flavours of the oils and meats to pop. I enjoyed the vibrancy of the herbs and the interesting texture of the various meats, like the tripe and chewy bits of what I thought were white fungus and tendon. I would order this again.

The cold, wet papaya salad with beef jerky was a wild explosion of sour and tart notes. The dressing on the strands of bean sprouts, papaya and carrots were refreshing. The lime-marinated medium-rare beef salad offered lively bites from the crunchy slices of onion, balanced by the mellowness of the chopped tomatoes. I also enjoyed snacking on the shrimp crackers, which were light, crispy and melted in my mouth.

I’m a fan of the steamed giant meatball, which was like a more subtle, juicier version of a Chinese dim sum dish, sui mai. The meat was soaked in a peanutty sauce, soft and warm, cupped in a dumpling wrap. This was so tasty, that I ate most of it, as L preferred the skewers.

All the meats in the wrap combo and beef set are winners. The grilled la la beef and satay beef each tasted different, garnished with sauteed green onions or garlic. The meat cooked in the fondue was lovely, soft and tender. I found the shrimp paste plumper and fresher than Rau’s competitors.

I appreciated the generous amount of basil, mint, pineapple, lettuce, cucumber and pickled carrots in both dishes. Unfortunately, our wraps have no pictures because L and I haven’t mastered our wrapping technique. I had to throw away two rice wrappers because I didn’t soak the crepe long enough in the warm water, resulting in a sticky, congealed mess.

There’s so much thought and care that goes into every dish. I noticed even the sauces were prepared in such a way to offer a completely different flavour profile. For example, the spicy tamarind sauce was topped with peanuts and chillis. The fish sauce was light, sprinkled with heady garlic notes and sweet pieces of carrots. I found the anchovy sauce intense with pungent, savoury, salty notes.

Rau is different from the norm – there isn’t anything generic about the flavours here. L noted that even though the portions were so generous, he didn’t feel gross or overstuffed. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend visiting Rau Bistro. This is a restaurant worth hitting up. Hitting the Sauce gives this gem two phat thumbs up.

Restaurants · Vietnamese

Pure Modern Asian Kitchen + Bar – Late-night pho

Our friends came over for a small party for New Year’s Eve. We followed the province’s gathering restrictions (updated December 21) for indoor social gatherings. I kept the number below the maximum limit of 10 people, and the six of us were well over the age of 18. Furthermore, everyone was double vaccinated, boosted up, and tested negative for Covid. For this post, let’s listen to “What Are You Doing Near Year’s Eve” by Ella Fitzgerald. 

We snacked and sipped the night away. Zuber popped open his favourite champagne – Taittinger. Sirski followed suit with Bollinger. I opened up a bottle of wine from Kournikova’s favourite winery – Ex Nihilo

My friends live blocks away from me, so I wanted to give them something hot and nourishing before they walked home in the -21 weather. For our late-night snack, I ordered Pot au Pho (gluten-free, spicy broth $60) from Pure Modern Asian Kitchen and Bar

I brought out my hot pot burner near the end of the night. I boiled water for the noodles on one half of the pot, which I requested uncooked to make it fresh for my guests. I simmered the brisket, beef balls, tendon, and beef ribs on the other half. At the very last moment, I slipped in the raw slices of beef.

My pictures don’t do the food justice, so I’m stealing one from Pure’s Instagram post. Ah, that’s so much better, isn’t it?

The broth was thick, heavy with rich beefy notes. The broth is a meal in itself. I looked up from my bowl to see everyone’s head down, joyfully slurping up this soupy goodness. Zuber raved about the pho and said this was an excellent idea to end the night. 

Kournikova only indulged in a tiny bowl with no noodles. She enjoyed all the meats, basil, and crunchy bean sprouts. Sirski and Québécois avoided my favourite meat – the beef rib. What? That’s the best part! I love the soft meat and the gelatinous bits around the rib. The tendon was soft and melted in my mouth. Québécois loves cilantro, and she knows I hate the herb. She was surprised and appreciative that I didn’t nix the obnoxious herb from my order. I accidentally got some cilantro and gagged a little. What I won’t do for my friends.

Pho au Pho was a hit! I would order pho again in a heartbeat. It’s the perfect ender for the last freezing cold day in 2021. Everyone left warm and content, and ready for 2022.

Banh Mi · Cheap Eats · Vietnamese

Bake Chef – Date night 9 out of 19

On Monday, I met L at the University of Calgary to vote for Calgary’s new mayor – Jyoti Gondek. After we voted, we went on date 9 out of 19 at Bake Chef. For this post, let’s listen to “The Times They Are A-Changin” by Bob Dylan.

I wanted to order a cold cut sub because one of my favourite things about a banh mi is the contrast of the warm toasted baguette and the refreshing chill of the vegetables and meat. However, the last time I tried a cold cut at Bake Chef I was not impressed, so I ordered what L recommended. 

L and I both ordered the Beef Sate Sub ($8.10). We went to his office to eat our lunch. I was relieved because I know I would have embarrassed L with my banh mi photo shoot. However, even in the privacy of his office, I could sense L was nervous. His eyes darted around as the crumbs and carrots started to fall on the table. L is sensitive to food smells, so I think he was worried I’d drop the subs on the floor, which would definitely leave an odour behind. Personally, I would love to work in an environment that smelled like my most favourite food in the world. Lucky for him, no sub was injured in the making of this blog post and I left his office stink free. 

The baguette was soft and squishy, significantly lighter than Saigon Deli and Trung Nguyen. The generous amount of beef was hot, saucy and sweet. I enjoyed the gooeyness of the melted white cheese and the texture of the ribbon-like cucumbers. The carrots, red onions and jalapeño provided a crunch that help to balance out the soft texture of the beef. 

How does this sub compare to all the other banh mi heavy hitters? The vegetables were fresh, but the carrots weren’t pickled. Size-wise, this sub is packed with more meat than even My Tho, To Me Sub and MyMy Sub. L prefers the texture and taste of the beef at Bake Chef over Saigon Deli, which he finds too dry. Bake Chef’s sub is also the most filling – I was stuffed for the next five hours. The bread is light and dry, so the sub gets soggy rather quickly. The addition of the lettuce and cheese makes Bake Chef’s sate beef sub the least authentic, but that doesn’t matter to me, as the overall flavour is great. 

If you can, get out for the advanced vote. The ballot process this year is more complicated than previous elections. There are two ballots – a municipal and a provincial ballot. As well, voters will be asked to  vote on adding fluoride to our water, select nominees for the Senate of Canada and vote on referendums about equalization payments and Daylight-Saving Time.

17th Ave · Banh Mi · Cheap Eats · Vietnamese

Thai Tai – Date night 8 of 19

I met Pedals at National on 17th Ave for half price wine. I picked National because I wanted to get a banh mi at Thai Tai after our night out. I’m always thinking ahead. For this post, let’s listen to “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna.

I haven’t eaten at Thai Tai before because I heard the food is westernized. However, I stumbled on a post on Instagram and the cold cut sub looked good enough for me.

I ordered a Cold Cut ($7.99) on toasted white bread with carrots, cucumber, onions, and chili peppers. When my sandwich was ready, I sat outside to eat. When I took the first bite, I grunted in appreciation. The guy sitting across from me that shot me a weird look, like I was ruining his late night meal.

The combination of the warm crusty sub and the coolness of the meat and pickled vegetables was so overwhelmingly delicious, my eyes rolled to the back of my head.  It’s incredible how much joy a banh mi can give me. The ratio of meat to vegetable and bread was spot on. The thick layers of meat are double that of Trung Nguyen and Thi Thi. The pate is so subtle that I didn’t really notice it. However, I found the special sauce of garlic, chili soy sauce and sriracha bright and savoury.

I called an Uber after I ate, but I still craving something. I spoke to an employee and told him my predicament. He said he had some spring rolls I could take from another order. He just made a friend for life. The vegetable spring rolls were awesome. When I arrived home, the shell was crunchy and the filling was still super-hot. I liked that I was given fish sauce, hot sauce and plum sauce.

Colour is really weird because I took this picture in my Uber.

L said when I came upstairs, I ranted for a good twenty minutes about how much I enjoyed my sub and spring rolls before falling into a deep sleep. The two glasses of wine I consumed earlier may have intensified my enthusiasm for Thai Tai. In any case, I plan to return and try the cold cut again, so my next review won’t be influenced by outside factors.

My next stop is Bake Chef at the University of Calgary. L and I are going to the advance vote so we can support mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek. While I’m there, I’m going to pick up a banh mi for date night nine out of 19.

Banh Mi · Cheap Eats · Restaurants · Vietnamese

Thai Thien – Date 7 of 19

I met up with Reeves at Cactus Club. Before I left my house to meet her, I looked up restaurants that would be open after our girls’ night. I spotted Thai Thien (formerly Thai Tai Sub) on 811 1 ST SW. I figured it was the perfect opportunity to have banh mi date night #7 out of 19. For this post, let’s listen to “You Were Meant For Me” by Jewel.

Cactus Club has half price wine on Tuesday and Wednesday. We drank some wine and Reeves ordered calamari. I nibbled on some of the hot peppers, but I was saving my appetite for the main course – a banh mi. I read the Google and Yelp reviews of Thai Thien beforehand so I didn’t have the highest expectation. I incorrectly assumed that a place like Thai Thien, one that caters to the downtown work crowd and tourists, wouldn’t have pate in their assorted sub ($4.99). I was happy to find out I was wrong.

I requested a white baguette as I read in the reviews that the brown version is too doughy. I found the interior of the bread soft and light. The cucumber was quartered and each piece was noticeably crisp and fresh. The carrots are pickled and crunchy. The sliced onions gave off a pleasing pungency. I counted two layers of cold cuts. Next time I would request extra meat to balance out the heavy ratio of cucumber. I appreciate the generous layers of pate, mayonnaise and butter, which I think is Thai Thien’s strong suit.

How does this cold cut compare to the other banh mi heavy hitters? Size-wise, the sub is similar to Trung Nguyen and Kim Anh. The flavour of Thai Thien’s pate tasted like Freybe’s pork pate, which gave the sub a westernized twist. I much prefer Xích Lô, Banh Mi Nhu Y, and My Tho BBQ’s pate. Thai Thien gives the least amount of meat but considering the rock bottom prices and the high rent location, I’m fine with paying a little extra to get some more meat. In terms of taste, Saigon Deli, Banh Mi Nhu Y, Xích Lô, Trung Nguyen, and Thi Thi offer a more traditional sub, which I prefer. Price-wise, this sub is an awesome deal, especially considering Thai Thien convenient hours and prime location in the downtown core.

The next week, I tried the Charbroiled Pork Sub ($6.25). Damn, this one is even better than the cold cut. The meat was seared on the outside and juicy on the inside. The ratio of meat to vegetable was perfect. The vegetables were fresh and crunchy. Every single bite contained that delicious balance of savoury, sweet and spicy.

For an inner city sub, you can’t get a better deal. I was stuffed and blissfully happy for only six bucks. Hitting the Sauce gives That Thien two phat thumbs up. Thai Thien is open from Monday to Saturday, from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Banh Mi · Cheap Eats · Vietnamese

Xích Lô Street Food – Date 6 of 19

For banh mi date #6, I checked out Xích Lô Street Food (pronounced sic-low). I’ve been wanting to check out this Vietnamese food stand in Eau Claire ever since John M posted it on Instagram. For this post, let’s listen to “Sick Love” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I ordered a Beef Sate Sub ($9) and a Cold Cut Sub ($9). While I waited, I chatted with Rick, the co-owner of Xích Lô. I learned the pate Rick makes is made from chicken liver and cognac. Everything in the subs is homemade except for the baguette, which Rick buys daily from a banh mi distributor. I noticed Xích Lô sells an assortment of steamed buns, which he informed me is one of his most popular dishes. 

These subs are bigger than the norm. I can tell because I could barely hold all the subs in my hand. During my photo shoot, I lost some of the daikon and carrot garnish. What I won’t do for my blog.

Xích Lô’s cold cut sub is a cut above the norm. How good is the cold cut sub? This banh mi is so phenomenal that when I was eating my sub, I felt like I was making love to it. There’s something special about the cold cut sub and I think it’s the combination of the meats, pate and sauces. The pate is silky smooth, with a rich mellow flavour. The homemade mayonnaise is thick and decadent, and only adds to the richness of the pate.

I was impressed with the freshness and quality of the three meats. I counted four layers of cold cuts. The amount of meat to bread and vegetables was proportional. I noticed the drizzle of Rick’s soy based sauce permeated throughout each bite.

The daikon and carrot are finely minced, so you got all the pickled flavour but none of that trademark crunch. I still got that satisfying chomp from purple onions, jalapeños and dry peanuts. The sriracha gave a warm heat that countered the tartness of the pickled vegetables.

I tried a bite of L’s sub and I noticed the fragrance and flavour of lemongrass. The beef was sliced thin, and each piece was soft and tender. L usually only eats sate beef subs but he after tasting my sub, he prefers the cold cut.

How does this cold cut compare to the other banh mi heavy hitters? Xích Lô subs are more filling than Trung Nyguen and Hue Thuong but not as densely laden with meats as My Tho BBQ, To Me Sub, or MyMy Sub.

For the smooth texture of cucumbers and crunch factor of the vegetables, I like Thi Thi and Obanhmi.  Xích Lô baguette is light and crusty, but the soft chew of Saigon Deli‘s bread and the buttery crustiness of Trung Nguyen win by a margin. In terms of taste, Xích Lô cold cut meats tie with Saigon Deli and My Tho. Without a doubt, Xích Lô offers the best pate I’ve tried in Calgary.

Hitting the Sauce gives Xích Lô two phat thumbs up and this food stall is making it on my list of best restaurants in Calgary. Pro tip – note that due to all the sauces and the minced carrots and daikon, these subs are best eaten immediately. Xích Lô is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Banh Mi · Cheap Eats · Vietnamese

Hue Thuong – Date 5 of 19

L and I were running errands on Sunday. Since we were already in Inglewood, he suggested we go on banh mi date #5 of 19. Hubba hubba, he sure knows the way to my heart. For this post, let’s listen to “Can’t Remember to Forget You” by Shakira and Rihanna.

I saw Miss Foodie’s post on Hue Thuong in Forest Lawn. When I checked the online menu, I noticed Hue Thuong offers banh mi. I’m glad I called ahead of time because the restaurant was packed with customers enjoying steaming bowls of bun bo hue. The person who answered the phone was polite and customer service-oriented. When he realized I was in a rush and I was hesitant to wait 30 minutes, he said he would ask the chef to bump my order up. I ordered the Grilled Beef Sub ($6.55) and the Grilled Chicken Sub ($6.55). Currently, Hue Thuong is offering a promotion – each sub comes with a complimentary can of pop.

Despite the twenty-minute ride, both subs were warm when we arrived home. The baguette took on some condensation from the bag, but the bread was still good – light and chewy.

The chicken was tender, cut into nice meaty chunks. The pickled carrots and daikon were sweet. I could taste butter on the bread. I noticed both subs were lacking cucumber. No biggie, as I didn’t miss it with the addition of the sauteed white and green onions.

The beef was soft with a bit of a chew to it. I read Hue Thuong uses a homemade soy and hot sauce. We really enjoyed the spicy sauce in the meat as it reminded me of sate beef in pho. L preferred the beef, but I like both subs equally.

What Hue Thuong has over other banh mi shops is the meat taste like it is freshly prepared for every order. Pricewise, the sub with a pop is one of the best banh meal deals in Calgary. Sizewise, I found Hue Thuong more filling than Trung Nguyen but not as big as Thi Thi, To Me Subs or My Tho BBQ. Tastewise, Hue Thuong’s banh mi has more a restaurant flavour to it, similar to Pure Modern Asian Kitchen. I’m think this has to do how the meat is made in a restaurant kitchen compared to the heavy prep work involved in a banh mi shop.

I want to go back and try the bun bo hue, as well as the other dishes Miss Foodie recommended – the dumplings, rice cakes and baby clams. I have a feeling the food is similar to Song Huong, another of my favourite restaurants in Calgary. To be continued.