In late 2002, at Saigon Bistro on Country Club Avenue in Huntsville, I had my first bowl of pho.
I’ve had it just about weekly since.
Pho is a rice noodle soup that is the de facto national dish of Vietnam. Its two signature features are a long and complex list of spices that deliver its unique base flavor, and a plate of garnishes to be added to the soup to taste at the table, right before it is eaten. A typical plate of garnishes includes cilantro/coriander, Thai basil, mung bean sprouts, jalapeno slices, and a lime wedge. Hoisin sauce and sriracha sauce are popular additions as well. I generally do all of the above except hoisin. Crush the fresh spices between your fingers to release their flavors.
The best pho in Huntsville today is at Viet Cuisine.
Viet Cuisine Locations & Menu
Viet Cuisine has known a couple of locations on Jordan Lane, but has settled at 210, two doors down from Tim’s Cajun Kitchen (in the old Frizzle’s location). It’s a full-service restaurant and one of at least five Vietnamese eateries in the area—an excellent indicator of just how vibrant our restaurant scene is now. Lea, the boys, and I had lunch there recently.
We began with some spring rolls and fried pork wontons from the appetizer menu. Fried egg rolls, chicken wings, and a few other selections are available as well. Our appetizers were freshly prepared and delicious.
For lunch, Lea went with a chicken clay pot. The clay pot is an excellent “gateway” dish for someone new to Vietnamese cuisine. Served in its cooking vessel, it includes assorted vegetables, the featured protein, and rice. She said it was as good as any in the area.
Nathan had a banh mi—essentially a Vietnamese sub sandwich. Its assorted meats and vegetables (with optional jalapeños this time) speak to French colonial influence, as the bread is a baguette. There are a few varieties available.
I knew Aaron would go with pho ga, so in the interest of photographic diversity, I went with a vermicelli bowl. Vietnamese vermicelli bowls contain rice vermicelli, a standard complement of vegetables, and whatever the star is on top, served with fish sauce. Viet Cuisine has a few varieties here as well. My lemongrass beef was divine.
And now, the pho.
My usual go-to is pho tai, which is beef broth with thinly-sliced portions of steak (so thin, in fact, that they’re dropped in the soup raw and the broth cooks them). The spice mix at Viet Cuisine is especially robust and quite satisfying. I also enjoy that they use purple onions — as far as I know, a unique touch in the area.
Aaron had wonderful things to say about his favorite, pho ga (chicken). I’ll branch out and try that here sometime soon. It looked and smelled marvelous.
There is no dedicated dessert menu in evidence, though boba (bubble) tea is available, with either tapioca balls or fruit jelly. Flavors include taro, milk tea, green tea, mango, Thai tea, pineapple, honeydew, strawberry, watermelon, peach, lychee, and passion fruit. Both boys love these for dessert.
Viet Cuisine for Kids
Viet Cuisine is ideally equipped to receive youngsters. There are both highchairs and booster seats available for dining. Also, each spacious and clean restroom includes a changing table. The dedicated kids’ menu includes an option for chicken nuggets and fries, as well as a kids’ noodle soup. However, please also keep in mind that most Vietnamese offerings are uncomplicated and made from recognizable things, so this may be a good place to invite some branching out.
Nearly all of Viet Cuisine’s entrées are in the $8-15 range, with most in the lower end. Service is friendly and prompt. The dining area is comfortable, but not especially large, and word is definitely getting out about this place. If you’ve got a party for lunch, arriving right at 11 is recommended. On the other hand, there are individual bar seats for single diners, so if you’re flying solo you probably have more leeway.
We’ll see you there!