After a rather pleasant tour of the Palais Garnier (also known as the Paris Opera House), we were ready for some lunch. I always rather enjoy a good phở, and due to their colonial past in Southeast Asia Paris is blessed with more than a few phở joints. We ended up settling on Au Bon Pho tucked down a quiet little road in the 3e arrondissement. But before I get too far into the review, we should talk a bit about “Vietnamese” cuisine. If you are from the US, like I am, chances are your “Vietnamese” food is distinctly “Southern Vietnamese”, because the vast majority of Vietnamese immigrants to the United States came during and immediate after the Vietnam War (hence the preponderance of places named after Saigon, or named with a number, which is often the year the founder came to the US), but there’s actually a rather wide variety of styles of both Vietnamese food in general, and phở in particularly, especially if you also add in influences from nearby Cambodia and Laos. So when I travel outside the US, it’s often interesting to try out other “Vietnamese” places for phở, since often they are drawing from a wider set of culinary influences.
On our recent trip to Pho Dang in Winooski, we immediately noticed that not only did North Main Street have a phở joint, it also seemed to have it’s own little Southeast Asian neighbor, with several Asian-related businesses nearby. One of them, Dharshan Namaste Asian Deli, is directly across the street from Pho Dang, and proudly sports “Bánh Mì” sandwiches in their window. I love a good bánh mì, so, a few weeks later when we were back in the Winooski area, we decided that we’d duck in and try Dharshan Namaste and see how they did.
One of the things I’ve particularly liked about the Burlington, VT metropolitan area is that for for a metro area with only slightly more than 200,000 people (although that is around 1/3 of the state), it has rather a lot of great restaurants, particularly ethnic restaurants. Indeed, Burlington has pretty much the highest concentration of Vietnamese people for quite a distance, and the area’s Vietnamese restaurant population has grown from the modest two places it had back in 2001 (when we moved here) to a robust half-dozen phở shops. One of these that I had been hearing a lot of good buzz about is Phở Dang in Winooski, so when we found ourselves in Winooski for a recent concert, we decided that pho was exactly what we needed to dispel some winter blues.
One of the fairly substantial culinary changes I’ve seen over the last 20 years or so is that Vietnamese cuisine has changed from a fairly niche ethnic cuisine limited to areas with high Southeast Asian populations, to a relatively common cuisine that is enjoyed by quite a large number of Americans of all ethnicities: it’s pretty common now for people to know about phở, that wonderful Vietnamese noodle soup, as well as several other Vietnamese dishes, like the bánh mì sandwich. And heck, even Vietnamese-inspired condiments like nước mắm and Sriracha sauce (I know, it’s at least as much Thai as Vietnamese in origin…) are now fairly common: we even have a bottle of Sriracha in the fridge here at work in New Hampshire. But it’s still somewhat of an urban cuisine, so I don’t get to enjoy a good bowl of phở unless I’m traveling. But one of my recent trips to DC let me visit an old favorite: Pho 75 in Arlington, between the Courthouse and Rossyln Metro stations.
My recent travels through Southern California had us passing through San Diego several times, and that was particularly nice, since San Diego has one of the larger Vietnamese communities in the US, and thus has quite an assortment of good Vietnamese restaurants. We were particularly craving some Pho, and courtesy of my friend Dennis over at A Radiused Corner, I had rather a nice selection of reviews of local San Diego places, settling on Pho Lucky (you can read one of Dennis’ reviews here). Pho Lucky is located inside of Lucky Seafood, just off of I-15 in San Diego’s Mira Mesa neighborhood, a short drive from Los Peñasquitos Canyon, which is one of my favorite San Diego area hikes. You won’t see the place obviously advertised, since it is actually inside the Lucky Seafood Supermarket (although, looking at the front of the market, if you go in on the left side, those doors take you directly inside). Once inside, it’s actually one of the more pleasant Pho shops I’ve been in (most Pho places seem to have all the ambiance of an office supply store), with a nice clean interior and a pleasant decor.
We always enjoy some good Vietnamese food when traveling, since it’s one of the cuisines that we really don’t find around rural NH. So, on our last Sunday in London, we decided to head up to Shoreditch. While London definitely doesn’t have anywhere near as much of a Vietnamese population as the United States, it still has enough Vietnamese people to have a reasonably good community and several restaurants, mostly centered in Shoreditch, mostly located on Kingsland Road, and one of the best-regarded places is Sông Quê, where we were meeting up with Sophie’s brother and family for lunch. We had tried to go here before (in 2010, when Rick and Sarah Scully were with us), but they were closed, and we ended up down the street at Tay Do, which was quite good as well. This time, however, Sông Quê was open.
The next stop on our Boston March was the Super 88 in Allston. Super 88 is a regional chain of Asian grocery stores (now part of the larger Hong Kong Supermarket chain), and the Allston location opened to much fanfare in 2002. In addition to having good Asian produce and seafood section, it also had an onsite bakery and a really good selection of basic Chinese groceries. More importantly, however, was that the front of the store was made into the “88 Food Connection”, a small food court featuring half a dozen Asian food vendors, including Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Bubble Tea, and other wonderful spots. It’s a great little place to meet up with friends and grab a quick Asian treat, so we decided it was also a good stop on the March. And one of those vendors, Pho Viet’s, is one of the better places around Boston to grab a Banh Mi sandwich.
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.
On Christmas Eve, we did one of our usual hikes in the Phoenix area (South Mountain’s National Trail), and afterward, we decided to grab a late lunch. Of course, this isn’t always the easiest thing to do on Christmas Eve, since most businesses aren’t open (in the past, we’ve ended up at TGI Friday’s for similar reasons). Of course, Southwest Mesa (and the adjoining area in Chandler) have developed a substantial Asian population, and now the area between Dobson and Alma School from roughly Main Street in the North, down to Ray Road in the South, has gotten quite the selection of Vietnamese Pho shops. Several of these were open on Christmas Eve, including Pho Nhat on Southern…
Our last full day in London, we decided that it would be nice to go on another London Walks tour, this time choosing a tour of the River Lea and the canals, ending up at the Olympic Park site by the Pudding Mill Lane DLR station. But on the way out there, we decided it was a good opportunity to grab some Vietnamese food, primarily since Carol and I don’t get a lot of good opportunities for Pho (the nearest Vietnamese restaurant to our house in New Hampshire is 45 miles away) at Tay Do…