Category Archives: Vietnamese

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 – that’s where I discovered how I can easily get the Vietnam online visa. Why not! 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 (am literally checking juicer reviews now to get that at home).  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/

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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

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‘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.

Indochine

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Cuisine: Vietnamese / Laotian

561 S Hamilton Rd
614.231.7357

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Indochine in east Columbus, is light and bright with a spacious feel and it is very family friendly, as evidenced by the number of children in their Sunday best. The owners are extremely hospitable, chatting and joking with regulars and very willing to expand on menu items – I have never heard anyone describe a dish with such enthusiasm and pride.

The food is a mix of Vietnamese and Laotian with a variety of salads, noodle soups and pho, fried rice and sandwiches. I was curious to try the Laotian style dishes, which share similarities to both Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, as they were new to me.

We started with a Vietnamese classic, a banh mi sandwich (ba mon) with 3 types of meat including headcheese. Not quite as delicately assembled as the Mi Li variety but with the same characteristic mix of flavors and every bit as fresh and craveable.

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Next were two salads, papaya salad accompanied with pork rinds, which even at ‘2 stars’ was too spicy for most of us to enjoy, and marinated cabbage with shrimp and chicken that was so vibrant and refreshing with its lime, cilantro and chili dressing that it was an instant favorite.

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Next were two beef salads, both Laotian style – Goi thit bo and crying tiger with ginger sauce. The crying tiger didn’t live up to its name: it was the papaya salad that was voted most likely to make someone cry. The Goi thit bo was a successful marriage of flavors, very similar to the Thai style dish yum nuea. The crying tiger was lightly seasoned beef strips to be dipped in ginger sauce.

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One of our favorite dishes was a cold rice noodle salad bun cha gio thit heo nuong (number 22 I believe) with pieces of spring rolls. Presented in a four seasons style, the light dressing comes on the side and you pour it over the ingredients and mix them together.

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We sampled two different types of noodle soups (banh canh), one with chicken and blood pudding  and one special (pictured) that was not on the menu. These steaming hot bowls would be a perfect winter meal.

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