Cheap Eats · Comfort food · Fusion · Restaurants · Vietnamese

Cuty Restaurant

Mai informed me that she doesn’t dine at many Vietnamese restaurants because almost all are too westernized for her taste. One place she does frequent is Cuty Restaurant. She told me not to get anything but the grilled wrap combo. For this post, let’s listen to Harry Nilsson – “Gotta Get Up.”

For a lack of a better adjective, Cuty is cute. You can see the effort the owner put into the decor, like the professional photographs and hanging bicycle planter basket. The tables were spotless. The washroom was clean and warm, despite the -27 weather. A pet peeve of mine are Asian restaurants that purposely keep the room cold to save money on heat. This happens a lot in Vancouver and Richmond.

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L and I ordered  the grilled platter – Banh Hoi Chao Tom Nem Nuong Bo La Lot ($19) and despite Mai’s advice, I ordered Pho Sate Bo Hoac Ga ($11.99). I looked around and noticed all the non-Asian customers ordered pho or bun. The customers speaking Vietnamese ordered the grilled combo platter. I texted Mai to tell her what I observed.

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Our server brought out a container of rice paper wrappers that also serve as a dipping vessel. The wrapper would curl in my hand from the heat of my hands. You insert the rice paper into the hot water and rotate it until it is soft.

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Our platter contained three types of protein – Banh Ho Chao Tom (grilled shrimp paste), Banh Ho Nem Nuong (grilled pork meatball) and Bo La Lot (grilled minced beef). This portion would suffice for two small appetites or be a very filling meal for one.

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You pick your protein and then fill the wrap with a mixture of lettuce, basil, mint, carrot, cucumber and vermicelli sprinkled with nuts and green onion.  The dipping sauce – nuoc cham –  was salty and sour with only a touch of sweetness. Fishier than most Vietnamese restaurants, as my hands smelled strongly for hours afterwards. Mai said there is also hoisin and satay sauce, but I think you need to ask for them.

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Of the three fillings, we enjoyed the shrimp paste the most as it was tasty and sweet. The shrimp flavour wasn’t very shrimpy.

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The pork meatball reminded me a bit of a hotdog because of its bouncy texture. The minced beef was more delicately flavoured and I found the betel leaves were soft and pliable. Bo la lot reminds me a Mediterranean dish – dolmades.

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The pho ($12) was tasty –  tangy and spicy with tender slices of beef. The broth wasn’t as hot as I would have liked. After I dumped in all the sprouts, the temperature cooled down.

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Next time, I wouldn’t mind trying the Banh Hoi Gia Truyen Cuty Quan  ($31) – a traditional platter of spring rolls, imperial rolls (taro, pork, and onion), tiger prawn rolls and pork sausage rolls. Or I’d order the grilled shrimp platter and then add the tiger prawn rolls or the imperial rolls.

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I’m a fan of Cuty restaurant so much, it makes it on my list of favourite restaurants in Calgary. I’d recommend the grill roll and wrap combo. Thanks Mai for the inside tip.

Cuty Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Cheap Eats · Restaurants · Vietnamese

Pho Da Bao

For a long time, I’ve been salivating over Pho Da Bao’s Instagram photos of their sate pho with bone marrow. On Sunday, I convinced L to make the drive over to Forest Lawn. For this post, let’s listen to “Long Time” by Blondie.

I was expecting a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. We were surprised to see that Pho Da Bao was anything but your typical pho joint. The branding of the sign was modern and eye-catching. The ceilings are pretty with the dropping stars. The fish swimming in the tank are gorgeously coloured and looked healthy.

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I ordered Pho Da Bao’s signature dish – Pho Sate Ga Hoac Bo Hac Do Bient – a spicy sate beef ($13). I didn’t add the bone marrow because I looked up the calorie content and saw it was 1,000 calories. I tore up basil leaves and dumped all the sprouts into my bowl.

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The beef broth was creamy and tasted like there was coconut in it. I enjoyed the deep, spicy notes. The meat was silky smooth and tender. The broth was served piping hot and  remained warm for a good 15 minutes. I thought the pho was very good.

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L ordered Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio ($13). The grilled pork was nicely grilled and of good quality. The bowl contained the usual suspects – fresh lettuce, bean sprouts, chunks of cucumber and carrots. The fish sauce was pungent and not overly sweet. I thought the bun was noodle heavy compared to the proportion of meat.

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I was still hungry so I ordered Cha Gio Banh Trang ($8) – gluten-free taro and pork spring rolls. This appetizer is a winner. Reminds me of a simpler version of Duncan Ly’s imperial rolls at Foreign Concept.

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To assemble this masterpiece, you take a piece of iceberg lettuce, basil leaves and a spring roll, then wrap it up and dip it into fish sauce. I found this appetizer refreshing. A tantalizing mix of cool from the basil and lettuce and hot from the crispy spring roll.

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It’s messy to eat – the water from the lettuce would intermingle with the fish sauce and drip on my hand. If you visit Pho Da Bao, I would recommend the pho and taro pork spring rolls.

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The portions are smaller than what I’m use to. I told Loaf2go and she said her husband gets the large sate pho and he’s stuffed, so it’s likely just me. The pho is worth the price, as it’s a step above their competitors.

I’m curious to compare Pho Dau Bo with its next door neighbour – Noodle World. I hear Noodle World has more uncommon dishes, like dried noodles with crab, sweet and sour soup with fish, braised fish clay pot, caramelized fish, and red fried rice. Beep Beep is coming for my birthday next week. I will likely convince her to go with me as she’s easygoing and doesn’t really care where we eat.

Pho Dau Bo Vietnamese Beef Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheap Eats · Restaurants · Vietnamese

The Submarine

Divine Offering informed me that after work she was heading over to Red Shoes’ parents restaurant – The Submarine – for a bánh mì. She said their subs were yummy. Divine Offering and I have similar taste so on Saturday, I asked L if he wanted to drive to Highland Park for lunch. For this post, let’s listen to “Business” by Eminem.

I hemmed and hawed when I saw the menu.  I had a hankering for pho but I read that the subs here reign supreme. One of the owners – Sue –  told me that everything on the menu is good as she picked and designed the recipe for each dish.

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L ordered a Sate Chicken sub ($9.25) and I picked the Sate Beef sub ($9.25). Sue asked us if we liked spice. We responded in the affirmative. While we waited for our subs I could hear the something sizzling in the kitchen. The meat is cooked fresh off the grill as you order, unlike other places where the protein sits all day in a warming container.

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Sue is outgoing and chatty. When she found out we know her daughter, she brought out complimentary teas and four pork spring rolls to our table. I find at some Asian restaurants, spring rolls are mostly wrapper with little filling. It’s the opposite here. The spring roll was packed with a juicy, meaty filling. Very good.

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L noted that the white chicken breast meat was of good quality. He could taste the freshness of the cilantro and vegetables. The spiciness of the sub was pleasant – enough to feel the heat but not hot enough to overpower the other ingredients.

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The beef in my sub was also of good quality. The warm toasted bread offered a nice crunch. The bread was light and not too soft or hard enough to scrape the roof of my mouth. That sate sauce is killer – a heady mixture of sweet, salty and garlic. I liked how the sate sauce and homemade mayonnaise intermingled and drip down onto my napkin.

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How good were these subs? He said The Submarine destroys all the other places I’ve taken him to and he would be happy to drive me here again. L was pissed off the last time I made him drive across town for an underwhelming banh mi. He still complains about that sub. He believes that other sub shops use low quality meats and gristle.

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The subs are a dollar or so more than competitors but what you get in return is more than worth it. L said he would gladly pay for The Submarine’s banh mi all day long. The subs are filling. I was full all day, which is unusual for me.

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The location is not close to my house or place of work, but since L is so keen to return, I know we’ll be back often. Hitting the Sauce gives The Submarine two fat thumbs up and this gem makes it on my list of favourite restaurants in Calgary.

The Submarine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheap Eats · Comfort food · Restaurants · Special Occasion · Vancouver/Richmond · Vietnamese

Banh Mi Très Bon – Richmond

I was sick after Beep Beep’s birthday dinner. I knew it wasn’t from the dinner as I was nauseous much earlier in the day. When I woke up on Sunday, I hung out with Naomi until Beep Beep picked me up to visit my father Ludwig and then to the airport.

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On the way to see my father, I received an email from him saying not to bother dropping by because he wouldn’t be home. Ludwig wanted to go to the mall instead with my brother Jacuzzi. Alrighty then. Beep Beep suggested we eat something nourishing before my flight. I picked Banh Mi Tres Bon in Richmond because I felt like pho and Banh Mi Tres Bon’s version is MSG free. For this post, let’s listen to Fever by Peggy Lee.

The cafe was busy. We were given a number and waited until a table opened up. Customers were also ordering take-out. The employees were working as hard and pleasantly as they could, though you could tell they were in the weeds. Our orders were messed up twice, but fixed immediately with a smile and a sincere apology.

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Beep Beep and I shared the Banh Mi Jambon ($7) – a cold cut baguette with warm slices of pork belly and creamy pate. The filling is sparser than I’m use to in Calgary but the intense flavours made up for the sheer quantity. The baguette was light and airy on the inside and crusty on the outside. I would order this again.

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I tried one of Beep Beep’s Salad Rolls ($6). I liked the quality of shrimp – it was bright orange and actually had flavour. The sauce was mild tasting, crunchy from the addition of crushed nuts and spicy from the pool of sriracha sauce.

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The showstopper was the Pho ($12). The golden broth was slightly sweet and felt so nuturing, like it was breathing life back into my body. The beef meatballs tasted clean and when you bite into it, you could feel the bouncy texture. I could tell the slices of  beef tenderloin were high quality. The best of the bowl was the addition of bone marrow. The marrow was this rich, mellow decadence that melted in my mouth. The noodles could have been more al dente, but that’s just my preference.

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I witnessed a little drama. The customer next to me threw a nasty hissy fit. The server dropped something and then picked it up and replaced it. The customer insisted that the server did not replace it and after arguing back and forth, hissed with pure venom, “Just remove it. Remove it. Just go.” Her eyes narrowed and her face contorted with such ugly rage, she looked like she was going to have a ‘nut fit’ like Heather Cho. It made me think of workplace mistreatment and the abuse servers face in restaurants. I wish I said something to the customer but instead I told the owner in front of the Heather Cho wannabe that I loved her restaurant and the pho was amazing. If that girl gets so upset over a napkin, I shudder to think how she would handle a real life problem.

Unlike the other reviewers on Zomato and Yelp, I did not find the prices expensive. Yes, it’s a bit more than the hole in the wall on Main Street, but the quality is so much better. The portions were generous and I didn’t get that thirsty feeling I sometimes get after eating pho. Hitting the Sauce gives Banh Mi Tres Bon two fat thumbs up.

Bánh Mi Très Bon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheap Eats · Restaurants · Vietnamese

Van Son Vietnamese

Ah, what a crazy m%&*king month! After a particularly hairy week, Office Dad and his boss Choo Choo Train (CCT) took me out for lunch. As it was snowing, CCT didn’t want to walk. He wanted to go to his favourite Vietnamese restaurant, Van Son Vietnamese Cuisine. For this post, let’s listen to something completely random and silly.

The restaurant was busy, packed with regulars. Some customers looked like they had a long night. I recognize the signs – slumped shoulders, tired eyes and a hoody pulled over their head. I realized that this place must be good spot to get over a hangover or a botched B&E.

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The portions are big and cheap. I copied CCT and ordered half the amount of noodles. Even with the decreased size, the regular portion of sate pho ($9.99) was huge. Office Dad ordered a large bowl of sate pho with peanuts ($10.99) and the bowl was so big, he only ate half. What a waster taster!

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The broth was light, only a little spicy. I didn’t get dry mouth or thirsty after lunch, so I’m guessing MSG here is either non-existent or kept at a minimal. The soup was served hot. The beef was plentiful but not super flavourful on its own and a tad tough. I liked that Van Son didn’t cheap out on the basil and sprouts.

I’d come here again. I’d like to try some of their other dishes, like the vermicelli and spring rolls. Hitting the Sauce gives one and a half fat thumbs up.

Van Son Vietnamese Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurants · Vietnamese

Lotus Vietnamese

I’m on a pho rampage. My friend Todd told me he eats at Lotus Vietnamese once a week. It’s his favourite spot for sate beef pho. I ate at Lotus over three years ago and I thought the noodles were too soft. Last Tuesday, Baron asked me if I wanted to go for pho at Lotus. It was a sign. Enter Ace of Base – The Sign.

Located two clocks away from the City of Calgary municipal building, Lotus is always packed with office workers. I ordered the Sate Beef Rice Noodle Soup ($11.99).

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The meat was nicely sliced and tasted like good quality beef. It wasn’t razor thin or stringy or too fatty like some places. The beef was tender and still pink. The broth was hot, the sate flavouring was subtle and clean, with a nice heat to it. The sprouts and basil were fresh. The noodles were soft. I prefer if the noodles had a bit more of a bite.

Overall, I like Lotus and would go again. I can deal with noodles that lack a bounce. Hitting the Sauce gives Lotus 1.5 fat thumbs up.

Lotus Vietnamese Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fusion · Restaurants · Vietnamese

Rau Bistro

It was Richie Rich’s last day at our office. To celebrate his new job, Office Dad, Richie Rich and I planned to visit Ho Won for their famous salt and pepper squid. Asian Persuasion said she didn’t want Chinese and she’d rather go to Charcut. Office Dad suggested that Asian Persuasion and What’s up Hamsup do their thing and we continue to have our lunch at Ho Won. Richie Rich, the diplomatic foodie in our office, asked if we could compromise. I suggested Rau Bistro. For this post, let’s listen to Mary J. Blige – Family Affair.

Unlike some Vietnamese restaurants, the food at Rau Bistro doesn’t come minutes after ordering. We were the first in the restaurant and it took about 15 minutes for our dishes to arrive. Rau Bistro is popular. By the time we left, the entire restaurant was filled with regulars.

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What’s Up Hamsup and Richie Rich went for the traditional A Lot Beef ($9.99) with spring rolls. They didn’t say much other than that it tasted good. A Lot Beef is served as a Monday special.

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Office Dad ordered the Combo ($12.75), which came with large shrimp, grilled beef and chicken. To his disappointment, no spring rolls were included in his entrée. Office Dad enjoyed his dish so much that he complimented the taste of the meat and seafood several times throughout our meal.

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Asian Persuasion ordered the Beef Vermicelli while I ordered the chicken. My chicken was tough and dry. Personally, I would have preferred if the carrots in my bowl were pickled or if basil leaves were added. The beef was delicious, with a hint of char from the grill and wet from a sauce. The spring rolls were made from rice paper and had a chew to it.

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The beef and pineapple banh mi was yummy. The homemade bread was soft. The sauces, pickled vegetables and beef were jam-packed with flavour. The combination of ingredients was not the standard stuff I get in Chinatown.

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We will miss you Richie Rich. I’m not sure how future lunches will happen without your tactful diplomacy. All the best for your future endeavours, including the success of your product Lam Jam.

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Rau Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars/Lounges · Chinese · Happy Hour · Japanese · Korean · Restaurants · Special Occasion · Vietnamese

Foreign Concept – Birthday Dinner

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My actual birthday was on a Thursday but my husband L had to work late that night. Instead, I had my coworkers come over and we feasted on delicious food and wined the night away.

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My office mate Patricia brought over three boxes of empanadas, cheese, chicken and beef from the Empanada Queen. These heavenly critters made the party. The crowd favourite was the cheese version, the pastry was deep-fried and the cheese was warm and salty.

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On Friday night, L took me out to Foreign Concept. L and I are both fans of the owner and chef – Duncan Ly. We arrived at 7:00 p.m. to a packed restaurant. On the night I visited, the restaurant hummed like a well-oiled machine. From front to the back, every component from the initial greeting, coat check, and the delivery of the food and drinks was smoothly coordinated.

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I started off with a glass of Escapade Cava ($9) while L ordered a Philips Hop Circle ($7.00). Our server suggested we try Last Best Tokyo Drift ($8).

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This beer is awesome! Hoppy but still mellow and smooth. I also drank a glass of Chenin Blanc (Domaine de Vaufraget Vouvray) which was  sweet.

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One of my favourite dishes is the Yuzu cured salmon fresh roll ($12). Delicate and light, I like the different textures and tastes of the creamy avocado, crème fraiche, cashews, gochujang, radish and cucumber. The rice wrapper was soft. The salmon was a good bite-size. The ikuri was the highlight. When it popped in my mouth, it added the taste of the sea. I could have eaten the entire plate myself.

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L and I both enjoyed the Vietnamese style Scotch egg ($11.00), with green onions and chili thread. The sausage casing was juicy and crispy, cupping the warm, creamy yolk goodness inside. The greens were delicious.

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The miso baked sweet potato ($10) dish was more than a decent portion, which makes it ideal for sharing between two or more people.  I thought I could detect maple syrup. The Quebec cheese curds were yummy.

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L and I shared the Alberta trout cha ca la vong ($24). We don’t like trout, but Foreign Concept’s version converted us. The fish was thin and flat, crispy on the outside. The flesh itself was flaky. I enjoyed the delicateness of this dish, the flavours and lightness of the dill, persimmon, rice noodles and garlic. This was an excellent dish with well-balanced flavours.

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When we received our bill, we were given these plastic fish. Depending on how the fish curls in your palm, you can determine your fortune. A nice touch and a lighthearted way to end the meal.

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The music was loud, but in an upbeat, lively way. L and I felt like we were out on the town. You could still have a good conversation using a regular speaking tone. The vibrant ambience makes for a good first date place. Service was excellent.

I could see Duncan Ly and Jinhee Lee at the front of the kitchen, ensuring every dish that went out was perfect. I know you aren’t suppose to bug the chefs, especially when it was so busy… However, I was tipsy and forgot my manners and I asked for a photo. Duncan kindly obliged. Tee-hee. Hitting the Sauce gives Foreign Concept two fat thumbs up. This new restaurant makes it on my list of favourite restaurants in Calgary.

Foreign Concept Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Vietnamese

Pho Binh Minh

I already finished my lunch when Mindy and Crazy Girl asked if I wanted to join them in Forest Lawn with Buzzy for pho. I said no a few times, but when they asked me right before they were  about to leave, I decided to go. I never get to see Buzzy or go to Forest Lawn, so I figured, what the hell, I’ll eat two lunches.

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We dropped by to check out Buzzy’s new work digs and then over to Pho Binh Minh. When we arrived at 12:00 p.m., the restaurant was quiet. By the time we left, Pho Binh Minh was almost completely packed. We received tea the moment we sat down.

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I ordered a small pho sate ($8.00) while Buzzy, Meetz, Mindy and Randy ordered a large sate pho ($9.99). Crazy Girl ordered the chicken vermicelli with spring rolls. We received fresh bean sprouts (I forgot to ask for them to cooked), fresh basil and a herb that tasted like cilantro. FYI, If you don’t request cilantro, you’ll get it automatically in your soup.

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My small pho would be a good size for a child. The meat was served pink. The portion of meat was a little scanty. Not too spicy, broth had a subtle spice to it that hit your throat. The clear broth had a slightly tart taste to it, flecked with drops of oil. I was informed by my friend Asian Persuasion that the noodles are homemade. I couldn’t detect the difference.

Service was prompt and friendly. The restaurant is clean and neat. If you like a clean, simple beef sate pho, I’d recommend Pho Binh Minh.

View my food journey on Zomato!

Pho Binh Minh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheap Eats · Chinatown · Vietnamese

Pho Hoai Vietnamese Noodle House

Office Dad and I were suppose to take Ms. Biz out for lunch to celebrate her latest promotion, but she insisted it was her turn to treat. I was feeling a little under the weather, so I suggested pho. The only place that’s decent for pho in Chinatown is Pho Hoai Vietnamese.

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Biz was reluctant to go to Pho Hoai as she finds the owner’s son particularly rude. While I don’t disagree with her, I’m willing to gloss over his angry gestures for the sake of the food. I reminded Ms. Biz that the prices and quality are the best in the vicinity. Plus, the owner is a real sweetheart and the rest of the staff are quick to get you a delicious and hearty bowl of pho. Ms. Biz and Office Dad agreed to go for the sake of my ailing health.

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We started off with a plate of piping hot spring rolls. The wrapper was thin and melted on your tongue. The filling was full of meat rather than vegetables and noodles.

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Ms. Biz and Office Dad ordered either the Pho Hoai Dac Biet ($11.99) or the Bon Bo Hue. I thought they ordered the latter, but in their bowl I could see sliced beef, beef ball, tendon and beef tripe, which is the description for Pho Hoai Dac Biet. Ms. Biz asked for the sprouts to be boiled rather than served raw.

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My bowl of Pho Sate ($11.99) was delicious. I ordered a medium bowl with no cilantro. There was more rare beef than noodles. The beef slices were tender and not stringy. The noodles were perfectly cooked, with some bounce still to them. The broth was served hot and filled with cloudy bits of peanuts, green onions, lettuce and red spices. It was so spicy I would take turns sputtering, coughing, sneezing, and then dripping in my own perspiration.

In Pho Hoai’s defense, I think it says a lot about the food if the restaurant is packed every lunch. The pho is darn tasty, inexpensive for the quantity and quality, and you can get in and out under an hour.

View my food journey on Zomato!

Pho Hoai Vietnamese Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato