Category Archives: Vietnamese



3108 Kingsdale Center
43221 Upper Arlington
(614) 456-7519


“There’s a lot to be said for experiencing crappy versions of food before you get to the good stuff. It makes the moment of realisation so very much better.”

So said Jay Rayner, perhaps one of the most outspoken and opinionated food writers around. I read his quote at a fortunate moment, shortly after having eaten at Tot and shortly before writing this review.

Point being, there have been enough new ‘bringing Vietnamese to the masses’ restaurant openings lately that it qualifies as a trend, and a trend that hasn’t produced much success. Having endured more than a few disappointing experiences in this vein, Tot surprised by how distinctly it delivered.

Generally speaking, we’ve found that there’s almost an inverse relationship between the amount of effort put into the image of restaurants serving immigrant cuisines and the quality of the food – basically, the better it looks, worse it tastes. Tot looks slick with professional logo and menu design, and an of-the-moment light & bright minimalist interior. Forgive us for thinking it felt like a familiar set up.


One that led to the need to quickly recalibrate: with the first taste, Tot’s banh mi easily became one of the top 3 in the city. The baguette was toasted, the fillings hit the sandwich’s signature ‘how does something so rich taste so fresh?’ notes, and as I was later told, the pate and the mayonnaise were both made in-house. They’re also getting a nice char on their grilled pork, and it pays off. Good start.


One that continues with the bun (cold rice noodle bowl).  The first thing you’ll notice is how beautifully it’s presented. Traditionally the elements of the dish are layered – vegetables at the bottom, covered with rice noodles, then meat on top – but Tot composes them so all elements are visible. Since the general idea is to mix them up anyway, there’s no discernible compromise to this approach. Clever, and tasty. We went with grilled pork option again, and not only did it satisfy, it evoked fading memories of the brazier grilled street side versions of this dish when I tried it in Hanoi.


But what about the pho? Truthfully, we weren’t big fans. The broth was on the thin side, and the flavor seemed to lean a bit too heavily towards the star anise. Everything else seemed right, but the broth is why we get it. Bearing in mind that the restaurant has been open for all of a week, it’s entirely possible that they haven’t worked the kinks out yet.


A point worth re-emphasizing, especially in light of how much they’ve done well. Even at this early stage, Tot is the first of its kind I’d happily return to, and, have.



Asia Market

asian markets columbus ohio

3456 Cleveland Ave, Columbus, OH 43224
(614) 261-6118
Open daily 9.30am-7.30pm (10am-6pm on Sundays)

We’re a bit remiss in not having covered Asia Market before… they’ve been open since 1981. It’s a large, high ceilinged market featuring an eclectic array of goods that cater not just to Asian tastes but also offers plenty of Latino and African products. Curiously, they also have the largest selection of ‘vegetarian meats’ that we’ve ever seen including vegetarian pork belly. The photo below does not show the whole case.

vegetarian food shopping columbus ohio

Even beyond that, culinary curiosities abound. The frozen fish section is huge and varied, black skinned chicken can be found, as can octopi of all sizes. It’s a great browse, and a clean and well-stocked market.

To the right side of the store (relative to the entrance),  sits a partioned area that acts as a small restaurant. There are seven tables, a TV and, notably, a high chair. The menu is very small and offers two appetizers (egg rolls and spring rolls), three noodle soups, bun cha gio thit nuong, banh cuon, and Vietnamese coffee.

Asian market cleveland avenue

The bun cha gio thit nuong was solid but not exceptional. It’s comprised of cold vermicelli noodles topped with salad, grilled pork, and egg rolls, and comes with the usual fish sauce based dressing to pour on top.

bun cha gio thit nuong

The bun bo hue was a bit disappointing. The broth was watery and heavy on the fish sauce but insufficiently meaty and spicy. Usually this dish is fragrant with lemongrass but that seemed to be lacking too. The beef was a bit of a lottery, a couple of pieces were tender and flavorful but several were inedibly chewy. There was some tendon and some slices of pork loaf but no pork blood.

vietnamese spicy beef soup

The bun rieu – a vermicelli soup dish usually made with a crab and tomato based broth – was the highlight of the meal and the dish that we would go back for.  It contained fish cake, shrimp (or crab?) paste, fresh shrimp and pork loaf, and had a pleasing dose of funk from the fish sauce and seafood.

vietnamese food in columbus

Vietnamese coffee is the only beverage on offer at the restaurant. It’s made to order and comes either black or with sweetened condensed milk and can be consumed hot or over ice. Other (canned or bottled) drinks can be purchased from the store and consumed in the restaurant.

vietnamese coffee

We probably wouldn’t recommend Asia Market as a destination for Vietnamese dining, but if you have some shopping to do and want to grab a bite while you are there then it’s good to know about. Our advice would be to order your food first, then shop and come back to the restaurant – service was a little slow.

Pho Saigon

vietnamese restaurants columbus ohio

Cuisine: Vietnamese

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

Click here to map it!

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
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.


Cuisine: Vietnamese/Chinese
5270 Cleveland Ave

Click here to map it!

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.