I’ve had a rather strong love of Vietnamese food since discovering it in the early 1990s. And I’ve been relatively blessed to have some decent places to get Vietnamese food in most of the places I’ve lived. East Lansing, MI wasn’t exactly a culinary mecca, but it did have Saigon Restaurant, which was a reliable source of Phở for my college years. Minneapolis was chock full of Vietnamese (and Cambodian) places, most of them very delicious. And I’ve even enjoyed watching the demographics of my parents’ neighborhood in Arizona change, with several good Vietnamese places popping up within a mile of their house.
Northern New Hampshire, however, is basically bereft of Vietnamese food. When we moved here, we discovered that not only did the area not have any Vietnamese restaurants, but almost nobody up here even knew what Vietnamese food was. After some web searching and talking around (including a brief period at work where I had a Vietnamese coworker), we discovered the unfortunate fact: Vietnamese food required traveling at least to Nashua to the Southeast, or Williston to the Northwest, in order to find a Vietnamese place. So we hopped in the car and checked things out.
Fast forward almost a dozen years, and the situation isn’t much changed. You can actually buy sriracha sauce in the stores now. And Golden Bowl now offers Phở in Manchester, NH. And quite a few places have come (and gone, even) around Burlington. But generally, that means a craving for Phở, cha gio, or any other Vietnamese food requires a road trip. So this weekend, when we found ourselves passing through Nashua after a weekend shopping trip, we decided it was time for another visit to Vietnam Noodle House.
I’ll be honest, like a lot of Asian restaurants I’ve been to, particularly phở shops, Vietnam Noodle House is a little lacking in ambiance. Indeed, its a bit like eating in a slightly grungy office supply store, and it’s one of those places where they tend to run the restaurant’s office and store excess non-refrigerated ingredients by stacking them up in the back of the restaurant (in this case, rice sacks and soda). And generally the place is understaffed, often with said staff being young teenagers. But once you get past these issues, they’ve got a rather good menu. Carol and I opted for our standard Vietnamese favorites, starting off with some spring rolls, followed by a bowl of Phở Tai for Carol, and a bowl of Bun Cha Gio for me.
Let’s start with the spring rolls. These were decent enough spring rolls. The wrappers were steamed enough to be soft, but not oversteamed to the point where they start to fail or resemble surgical gloves. The filling was quite tasty: a decently cooked shrimp, some nicely spiced pork, and some very fresh veggies. I prefer more mint and basic in my spring rolls, but these were pleasant enough.
Moving on, Carol rather enjoyed her phở. As a start, Vietnam Noodle House makes one of the richer and more fragrant phở broths I’ve sampled recently, with particularly strong beef and star anise notes. On top of that, they got nicely thin and tender beef, some good noodles that aren’t overcooked, and a nice assortment of vegetable toppings. The only downside? No sliced pepper. But otherwise a thoroughly pleasing bowl of phở.
The did a bit better with my bun cha gio. To me, I love a good phở, and it’s still my primary go-to dish, but I also travel enough to places with decent phở shops that I like to mix it up a bit, so I often get either the bun cha gio (cold rice noodles with veggies, sauce, and chopped Vietnamese egg rolls), or the related cousin, bun cha gio thit nuong (the same, but with grilled pork as well). It’s a dish that showcases the wonderful nature of a goo cha gio, complementing it with some noodles and some crunch from the veggies. And they do a great job of it here: the egg rolls were almost perfect (only flaw was that the carrot was a bit overcooked for my tastes), perfect noodles, a rich fish sauce, and plentiful veggies.
Sure, judged directly against some of my favorite Vietnamese places in other cities (Phoenix, Boston, or Arlington, to name a few), Vietnam Noodle House is middle of the pack. But for Northern New England, they are quite good, and some of their dishes are quite enjoyable indeed. My major complaint is that it’s over an hour’s drive to get there from our house… We’ll continue to come back when we’re in the area.