Category Archives: Vietnamese

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.

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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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Mi Li Cafe

Cuisine: Vietnamese
5858 Columbus-Wooster Road
Columbus Square Shopping Center
614.899.9202

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Until recently Mi Li Cafe was our go-to for Vietnamese food. Although we have now tried most of the Vietnamese restaurants in town (that we know of…), Mi Li is still easily our number one place for banh mi sandwiches. A banh mi is a Vietnamese sub made with crusty french bread, sliced pork, house-made pate, mayo, cilantro, jalapenos, carrot and cucumber. It is a wonderfully refreshing mix of crunchy and chewy, spicy and cool, and is exceptionally satisfying. They are also very good value, too. We didn’t think that the bahn mi could get much better until we tried the new banh mi with grilled pork. It’s a winner.

While we usually head to Mi Li when we’re craving a banh mi sandwich, we have managed to sample, at one time or another, everything on the fairly limited menu. One of our other favorites is the new bun cha giothit nuong, rice vermicelli and salad topped with egg rolls and barbecue pork. The barbecue pork really is that good.

The banh cuon is a rice crepe with minced pork, pork patties, bean sprouts, cucumber, basil, fried onions and a fish vinaigrette. Good but not as superlative as the above dishes.

Mi Li also has an above average pho, the Vietnamese staple, with our preference going to their pho dac biet (noodle soup with beef, tripe and meatballs).  The bo kho (beef stew) has a richly spiced broth that also hits the spot.

The cafe has an unusual atmosphere that is a cross between a cafe and a waiting room. The rack of glossy magazine made it a little like a trip to the hairdressers, and like many Asian restaurants the TV can be a little loud but you can flip through Cosmo while you sip the potent Vietnamese coffee.  Or play pool!

Beyond the Vietnamese coffee, Mi Li’s beverage choices include frozen bubble tea and some more adventurous options including che ba mau which is three types of beans and coconut milk and sam bo luong, a drink made with seaweed and ginko nuts. Trying both of these drinks seems to have given us a certain respect with the proprietor – she repeatedly exclaims surprise at how brave we are. If you like coconut milk and red beans the che ba mau is definitely worth trying.