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