Category Archives: Vietnamese

Pho Saigon

vietnamese restaurants columbus ohio

Cuisine: Vietnamese

5644 Columbus Square (part of Asian Grocery)
614.818.4499
Sunday-Thursday 9am-9pm, Friday & Saturday 9am-10pm

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Pho Saigon is the third Vietnamese restaurant in the Columbus Square area. Bearing that in mind, we were pleased to see that they were offering some well turned-out Vietnamese dishes that are not only unique to the immediate area, but to Columbus overall.  The restaurant may also hold the honor of being the longest and skinniest restaurant in Columbus – it’s little more than a sliver partitioned off from one side of the Asian Grocery.

saigon pho columbus
The first thing that caught our attention was the half moon cake (banh xeo – pronounced banh SAY-oh) probably better translated as half moon crepe. This is a crispy savory crepe made of rice flour and tinted with tumeric. Apparently the name means ‘sound crepe’ due to the noise the of batter hitting the hot pan. It is filled with pan fried shrimp, pork, onion and peeled mung beans. The crepe is served with a plate of lettuce leaves and herbs such as mint, basil and shiso and accompanied with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce (nuoc mam pha). To eat it you wrap pieces of the crepe in the lettuce leaves and add herbs and the dipping sauce to taste. I loved the flavor and texture combination.

chao long savory rice with pork offal
The next unusual dish that caught our eye was chao long (porridge with pork organs). This Saigon specialty is a type of congee – a savory rice soup in which the rice is cooked until it achieves a porridge-like consistency. Pho Saigon’s version was very flavorful and we guessed that it was cooked with broth and not just water. It was topped with cubes of congealed blood, blood sausage, slices of tongue and slices of pork intestine and then garnished with thinly sliced scallions and finely ground black pepper. I promise that it tasted so much better than it sounds, and was actually very comforting. If offal isn’t your thing, you can also order it with duck or chicken. Chao long is served with pieces of light, crispy deep-fried croutons, bean sprouts, and lime wedges.

columbus vietnamese food

We also ordered the bun bo hue (Hue style beef noodle soup) which we loved. This beef soup is actually made with pork as well as beef. The broth is seasoned with lemongrass, shrimp sauce and chili, but the heat was fairly mild (you could add more). It was topped with slices of onion and cilantro but came accompanied by a plate of finely sliced banana flowers, sliced water spinach stalks, lime wedges and Thai basil.

Although the market is well established, Saigon Pho opened very recently and the menu is fairly limited. We were very pleased with what we tasted so far. Other menu items are:

Goi quan (Vietnamese spring roll)
Cha Gio (Vietnamese egg roll)
Gio dudu (Vietnamese papaya salad)
Pho Bo (beef noodle soup)
Bun Cha Gio (rice vermicelli with egg rolls)
Canh ga chien (spicy crispy chicken wings)
Goi go sen (lotus root salad)
Com chien (fried rice)
Com suon truong opla (pork chop with egg)

Buckeye Pho

vietnamese food columbus761 Bethel Rd., Columbus, OH 43214
614.451.2828
Open Mon-Thurs 11am – 10pm, Fri-Sat 11am – 10:30pm, Sun 11am – 9pm

Click here to map it!

Buckeye Pho is one hell of an interesting experiment.

As the name might suggest, the interest comes from how they wed an ethnic cuisine (in this case Vietnamese) to resolutely Ohio-centric branding. A few have gone down this path before – the ill-fated Buckeye Sambusa, to name one – but none have committed to the concept so completely.

And by commitment, I mean investment. Few new independent restaurants in recent memory have debuted with such a bright and shiny interior space, and I can’t think of any (true) ethnic restaurants in town that can boast of such refinement. A brilliant glossy stainless-steel kitchen gleams from behind a glass-tile-clad kitchen bar counter. Three large flat-screen TVs above the kitchen show a mix of news and sports. Rich red wood tables gleam with multiple coats of lacquer. Earth tones and OSU crimson adorn the walls, as does a stripe comprised of hundreds of real buckeyes. We were seated by a tie-wearing host, and the rest of the front-of-house staff wore customized black Buckeye Pho polo shirts. Kitchen staff wore strictly chef’s whites.

The effect, in sum, is that of a small localized Champps – not a whiff of ‘ethnic hole in the wall’ vibe anywhere and nothing so much as a nod to the culture that spawned the cuisine.

columbus vietnamese restaurants

At least until one opens the menu. As we waited for our food, we felt a gaze upon us. A group of six men, by appearance probably construction workers, peered in through the window… and apparently liked what they saw. They entered and were seated next to us, and began perusing the menu. We’re not above listening in and observing, and what we heard and saw was puzzlement. The server walked them through their options, they ordered, and cracked self-depricating jokes regarding their cluelessness about ‘Oriental food’. Their food came, they ate, they seemed to enjoy.

This is clearly the idea behind the place – to entice those who are unlikely to try Vietnamese to feel as comfortable as possible in doing so. Like I said, a bold play… and one that might just work.

And it’s a worthwhile introduction to make, as Buckeye Pho’s owners are related to the owner of Mi Li Cafe. It shows in the food – the banh mi rolls have the same satisfying crunch, and the pho comes with a similarly rich and satisfying broth. This is true, unadulterated Vietnamese cuisine done well.

vietnamese restaurant bethel road columbus
Pictured (clockwise from top left): signature pho; grilled beef banh mi (Vietnamese sub); Saigon soup (wonton like chicken broth with shrimp, crab sticks, chicken, chicken liver and roast duck) and bun thit nuong cha gio (vermicelli with grilled pork and spring rolls).

Interestingly, on a strip that has long been known for its many Asian restaurants, this is the first Vietnamese Restaurant on Bethel Rd. It makes the strip all the more compelling as a destination. If you’re into pho and the like, Buckeye Pho is a great new option. If you’re saddled with ‘that one friend’ whose lack of adventurousness limits your dining options, tell ‘em you’d like to try out ‘a new restaurant’ and take ‘em here. They won’t know what’s you’ve done until it’s too late, and they might just like it.

In spite of the spiffy atmosphere, prices are entirely reasonable. Apps start at $3.00, banh mi sandwiches run from $5.00 to $6.00, and larger dishes range from $4.50 – $10.50. Vegetarians will likely have a tough time here.

Yuen’s

CLOSED
Cuisine: Vietnamese/Chinese
5270 Cleveland Ave
614-823-8880
www.yuensrestaurant.com

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Yuen’s is no new kid on the block – in their previous life the owners had a place near campus on Lane and High called Chinese Village Kitchen. Upon reviewing the menu, it is divided into two parts; the first being the usual American-Chinese fare and the other pages towards the back list Vietnamese and the Cantonese dishes.


The layout of the restaurant is clean and decor is heavily reflective of Chinese influences. The place is airy and has windows on 3 sides of the restaurants, making it a very pleasant place to dine.

We dove right into the back pages of the menu and ordered the beef tendon salad and the squid salad. The beef tendon was heavily seasoned with sesame oil and szechuan pepper and garnished with lots of cilantro. The texture of tendon was slightly chewy and slippery at the same time. This can be a challenging dish for some who may not be used to eating gelatinous textures. The squid salad came with a fish sauce and lime sauce and garnished with jalapenos and red onion. The squid was less than fresh and a little too salty that day.

As per our usual visits to restaurants with Vietnamese menu items, we ordered the bun thit nuong. It is essentially cold rice noodles with spring rolls, bbq pork, julienned carrots and cucumber, tossed with a light vinegary fish sauce laced marinade. This version was as good as we had in other Vietnamese places. There isn’t a tremendous amount of variation to this dish from place to place (perhaps save for Luc’s version), with differences typically being in the emphasis on the ratio of veg vs pork in the spring roll. This one leaned more towards the pork.


For our mains, the waitress recommend adding roasted pork belly in addition to the roast duck (both above). This is a very familiar lunch plate for those who have grown up in Cantonese-influenced household. A roast meat plate is very common for lunch, it could be any combination of char siu (bbq pork), siu yoke (roasted pork belly) and roast duck. The roast duck came doused with some plum sauce that gave us something sweet to counter the saltiness of the duck. It was slightly overcooked and that made the flesh tough and stringy to navigate. The pork belly on the other hand was quickly devoured by the table for its crispy skin and wonderful alternating layers of fat and lean meat. It was lightly augmented with some 5-spice powder and salt. Biting into the crispy skin produces a sound quite similar to the crunch of potato chips. To redeem our carnivorous ways, we ordered some stir fried snow pea shoots. Unfortunately the redemption was lost since the greens were overcooked.

On a separate visit, we decided to try more of their Vietnamese and noodle dishes. The one one the left is the Tieu Chau Style Rice Noodles Soup and the right is the Satay Beef Rice Noodles. The Tieu Chau was filled with slices of pork liver, minced pork, shrimp and fish balls, pretty much a kitchen sink dish. The addition of fried shallots on top gave it the dish some texture and lovely edge of savoriness. Overall it was a very slurp-worthy bowl noodles. the satay noodles on the other hand is on the other end of the spectrum. The sauce was all gloop and no flavor. The Woolf and I couldn’t pick up any distinctive flavor that would make it a satay sauce. Peanut – no (yes, there is sprinklings of crushed peanuts on top but there was definitely none in the sauce). Soy – maybe. Random brown sauce – yes. This bowl did not get a seat in the clean plate club.

Overall, there are a few good things on the menu but unfortunately it is dotted with more unsuccessful ones.  It was also hard to differentiate between the Chinese and Vietnamese dishes as there isn’t a specific call out to the Vietnamese dishes. However if you happen to be on 161 and craving some rice noodles, do stop by as they do have a pretty decent Black Bean Beef Chow Fun.

Luc’s Asian Market

3275 Sullivant Ave
614.274.6757
Kitchen hours – Sat-Sun 9am – 7pm
Market hours – 9am – 8pm every day

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As we walked into Luc’s, I was immediately enchanted by a melange of aromas from the herbs, spices, vegetables, and incense – one deep breath, and I’m flooded with memories of my time in Southeast Asia.

This certainly isn’t coincidental – the owners of Luc’s are Cambodian/Vietnamese, and most of the staff is also Cambodian, Lao, or Vietnamese.  These origins are largely shared by their customer base as well.  And, far beyond just the aromas, Luc’s is probably as close as a Columbusite can get to being in Southeast Asia without traveling.

In support of my thesis, I submit this bit of pure awesomeness:

I ordered a glass of sugar cane juice, and, next thing I know, they’re peeling sugar cane stalks by hand to prepare them for juicing.  While this is flat out unheard of here, it’s an omnipresent part of the street scene in just about any city from Bangkok to Hanoi.

But I’m getting ahead of myself – a quick overview is in order.  Luc’s is first and foremost a grocer, carrying a wide variety of ingredients for the cuisines of the aforementioned locales.  They also function as a quick-bite carryout, providing pre-made banh mi sandwiches, small prepared meals, desserts, house made beverages, and more.  Their most recent addition is the opening of their kitchen, which now allows them to provide a range of maybe 30 dishes cooked to order.

Accomodations, should you choose to eat in, are meager – they have perhaps 8 seats in total, and upon taking one you’ll definitely feel a part of the market scene going on around you.  The cooks, which can be seen through a window (or by peeking around the wall that divides the kitchen from the market) are also there to take your order.

Our bun thit nuong & cha gio (grilled pork & eggroll w/vermicelli)  and chicken laab arrived in short order.


As some of our readers may have observed, bun thit nuong (the name changes slightly from place to place, but it is the same dish) is a staple for us – anytime we’re anywhere that serves Vietnamese, this is a must-order item.  And, perhaps never more so than here.  Luc’s interpretation is a wild ride – the pork and the egg rolls are intensely flavored, with deep lemongrass notes, and intensely satisfying.  We suspect that the intriguingly novel pungency may reflect the multicultural makeup of the staff… to which we say, ‘three cheers for diversity!’.

The chicken laab was similarly satisfying. This is not a subtle dish – the lime and fish sauce assert themselves in no uncertain terms – but is nonetheless a faithful and enjoyable interpretation of a Thai/Lao classic.  We ordered it prepared to a mild ‘heat’ level, but the cook made it clear she’d be happy to bring the pain if so desired.

It was about at this point that the head cook (who is also co-owner) started to take interest in the oddball white folks happily slurping up her noodles and clumsily chopsticking her laab.  “Ever had chicken feet?”, she queried.

“Does it matter?  Bring it!”, we thought.  “We’d like to try it”, we said.

The feet were prepared in a black bean sauce redolent of Chinese five spice, and were about as tender as any we’ve ever had. The texture is of a gummy-meets-gelatinous, ‘you either love it or hate it’ nature, but I couldn’t imagine anyone arguing with the flavor.

As we nibbled flesh off of tarsals, another dish appeared.  “These aren’t on the menu”, she said, and explained that they were Vietnamese crepes rolled with a pork and mushroom filling.  I’ll save you the details… it’d be unfair… but suffice it to say that it’s a damned shame you’ll be unlikely to try them yourselves.

You can, however, sample from their range of unusual and eye-catching Vietnamese beverages.  Check out this basil seed drink:

It looks something like frogspawn and it has the slimy texture that its appearance suggests, but served with ice it is very refreshing. Banana syrup is commonly added to the drink which gives it a somewhat artificial flavor, but apparently it is quite bland without it.

With all of the above said, we still feel as though we’ve barely scratched the surface in describing all that Luc’s has to offer.  From fantastic fresh Asian greens to the largest variety of rice I’ve ever seen to an impressive array of fresh exotic fruits, fascinating offerings abound.

We’ll make it back to Luc’s soon.  Hope to see you there.

Note: Vegetarians will find plenty of satisfaction in the grocery offering, but the meals definitely skew towards carnivore territory.

Edit:

We’ve already made a couple of returned trips to Luc’s unable to resist what we think is some of the best Vietnamese food in Columbus. The spicy beef salad really packs a flavor punch with fermented black beans giving another dimension to the spiciness.

The pho (not pictured) had some of the most tender tendon I have ever eaten and the broth was sweet and fragrant with five spice.

The highlight was the grilled pork chop with lemongrass – essentially the same meat that appears in sandwiches and noodle dish. The pork chop with rice is actually two tender juicy pork chops served on a huge pile of rice with an optional dipping sauce.

Huong

Cuisine: Vietnamese
1270 Morse Road
614.825.0303
Open daily for lunch and dinner: hours vary (close early on Tuesday)
Website: http://huongvr.blogspot.com/

Click here to map it!

This winter we’ve tried a number of Vietnamese restaurants and Huong was definitely one of our favorites. We were instantly taken with the colorful dining room complete with plastic fruit trees, flowers and a large wall mural, as well as with the charming staff.

The menu is divided into appetizers, rice vermicelli, noodle soups, rice dishes and rice rolls. There is also an extensive selection of desserts, most of which are drinks and even include a durian smoothie. Banh mi sandwiches and congee (rice porridge), while not listed on the menu, are offered daily. They also have weekend specials that may include sticky rice, Vietnamese dumplings and Vietnamese baguettes. This is, so far, the only place in Columbus we have seen that serves congee.

To start we shared a Vietnamese crepe with shrimp, pork, mung beans and herbs. This was pretty similar to the Korean pancake we have had at Arirang. What was different was that this was served with a different dipping sauce (the same as served with bun cha) and a plate of lettuce leaves and fresh herbs. The crepe was crisp, the fillings generous and the dish met with universal approval.

We also sampled a pho, pho tai bo vien (noodle soup with rare steak and beef ball). The broth was good, if a little greasy, and had a fairly strong star anise note.

We ordered bun heo which was bun cha (rice vermicelli noodles on top of lettuce) with egg rolls and pork. This is a dish we order a lot and and serves as a useful comparison between restaurants. It was average, which is to say good, and the crinkle cut radish on top was a notable addition.  As you can see, it also comes with a generous topping of peanuts.

We tried one of the desserts, fried banana wrapped in sweet rice with coconut milk and peanuts. It was good but perhaps not overly exciting.

Vietnamese coffee is available iced or hot. The hot coffee is served as shown below, brewed at the table with a Vietnamese-style ‘over the cup’ drip coffee maker which dispenses coffee into a dollop of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom of the mug below.

It felt like we barely scratched the surface and will definitely return to Huong to try some of their other menu items and weekend specials.

China Jade

Cuisine: Vietnamese
6104 Boardwalk St
614.847.1230
Hours: Tues-Thurs; 11am – 10pm, Fri-Sat; 11am – 11pm, Sun; 11am-9pm

Click here to map it!

‘I know this place that has great Vietnamese food.  Ignore the name, just order off of the Vietnamese menu.’  So said one of our sources for all things Asian in Columbus.  Who were we to argue?

China Jade’s space is unremarkable and clean.  Service was friendly and more than willing to work around the language barrier. After flipping through the massive ‘Chinese’ section of the menu (written entirely in English), we found the ‘Vietnamese and Chinese’ offering (written in Chinese, Vietnamese, and English) and dove in.

From the apps we ordered pork skin spring rolls, jelly fish, and mandarin duck.

Pork skin spring rolls – hmmm.  To the best of our ability to discern, the ‘pork skin’ component was a dry, dusty and largely flavorless powder.  The remainder of the roll was as expected, but the pork dust seemed to dampen enthusiasm for all who tried it.

The jellyfish, on the other hand, was a hit.  Presented as a salad, the thin strands of jellyfish were a slightly chewy counterpoint to the carrots and cabbage that accompanied.  All were an excellent conveyence for the dressing – a sweet and salty mix laced with sesame.

The duck was the most controversial of the trio.  It was crudely chopped (bone-in) and served in a somewhat sweet brown sauce. The flesh was neither exceedingly tender nor tough.  I enjoyed it, but opinions certainly varied. Generous in quantity, it seemed a good value at $7, but there was some understandable grousing about the effort involved in separating the flesh from bone and gristle.

From the ‘meal in a bowl’ section we ordered bun cha gio thit nuong (egg roll w/rice vermicelli and grilled pork), and from the ‘rice platter’ section we ordered com suon nuong (grilled pork chops).


No complaints on the bun cha – nice crunchy egg rolls, tender well seasoned pork, the usual rice noodles, all topped with scallions and  chopped peanuts. Nice.  The com suon nuong was an even more of a crowd pleaser – its sweet, crunchy, coriander spiked crust (deep fried?) gave way to succulent pork chop goodness.

A Malaysian foodie friend (and co-conspirator) of ours dropped this bit of wisdom on us: first-generation Asian restauranteurs in the US often come from a street vendor background in which they were expert at preparing a very small selection of dishes at a very high level in their country of origin.  They generally feel compelled to offer a much wider variety of options in the US, but it is usually the dishes they perfected in their days as a street vendor that really shine.  This might just explain the veritable mantra we’ve heard from quite a few other Asian friends of ours – don’t seek the right restaurant, seek the right dish from the restaurant.

This relates to China Jade in the sense that we had some items we loved and some we weren’t so crazy about…  and given the above theory, that’s probably as it should be.  We suspect that there still might be a gem or two here we haven’t uncovered yet, so stay tuned.

Pho Hua Jennie Cali

CLOSED
Replaced by Erawan Thai

Cuisine: Vietnamese
3589 Refugee Rd

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This restaurant, started by a Vietnamese family who recently moved from Cali(fornia), serves Pho (among other Vietnamese dishes), and is intended to be a tribute both to Hua (the restaurant left behind in Cali) and a relative named Jennie.  Ergo – Pho Hua Jennie Cali – got that?

PHJC has taken up shop in the old Pad Thai space on Refugee road.  Little has been changed outside of the kitchen, and given its oddball southeast Asian strip mall charm, that’s alright with us.

We started our meal with a selection from the khai vi (appetizers) – nem nuong cuon (‘pork on sugar cane stick rolls’).  All who tried it were enthused – the pork is grilled on thick sugarcane skewers (from which it presumably gains its sweetness) and forms the center of what is otherwise a fairly typical example of a quality Vietnamese spring roll.  Served with a hoisin-esque dipping sauce, this was a crowd pleaser.

Perhaps less exciting was the bun cha gio thit nuong (rice vermicelli with egg rolls and BBQ pork) – a bowl with greens topped with rice noodles, mini egg rolls, and pork, accompanied by a side of a sweet sauce for dressing the dish.   As you will see in upcoming reviews, this dish gets a test drive in almost every Vietnamese restaurant we try.  The egg rolls (a standard part of this dish) were deemed exceptional, but the pork, which was plentiful, was perhaps a bit lackluster flavor-wise and a bit on the tough side.

Unfortunately we doubled down on pork when ordering, and got the com thit nuong chien cha trung (steamed rice, BBQ pork, fried egg).  Same pork, similarly generous quantities, with some rice and a fried egg.

We’ve marked this place for a return trip – we’ve barely scratched the surface of the menu and sense that there is far more to it than what a single visit might reveal.  Service was extremely friendly and efficient – if you’re in the area, give it a shot.

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