Tag Archives: pho

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)

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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

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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.

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.