Local Eats: Vietnam Grille - Charlotte, NC

Now I'm new to the Charlotte restaurant scene, so I definitely needed some guidance in the area and who better than Helen Schwab (Twitter: @helenschwab), restaurant reviewer for the Charlotte Observer. I think she was a bit nervous about recommending a place for me not knowing my tastes but she hit this nail right on the head.

The Chef at Vietnam Grille is a displaced Northerner who owned a restaurant in Philly's China Town. After a short stint owning a nail salon, he came down to NC last year to open an amazing restaurant. I'm so glad he did, because this place had great food and the service was excellent.

So I hope you'll have a chance to check this place out if you are in/near the Queen City. I know I'll be back soon. Hope you enjoy this post and get some ordering ideas!

--Joe Kwon

Dau Hu Chien (Crispy Tofu). I like to start every meal off with a nice appetizer or 4. Their Crispy Tofu hits the spot if you're looking for something that is light, crispy, and somewhat good for you. And if you're sharing with 16 people you really don't have to worry about getting too full on it. If you don't like tofu, all I can say is, you should learn to. It's such a versatile protein and it's vegetarian friendly!

Goi Tom (Shrimp Salad). I'm a big fan of Vietnamese salads. Mostly because they don't taste like any other salads out there. So sweet and salty in the right ways. And they usually involve cabbage and I just think that's an underestimated vegetable to start with. Show me someone who doesn't love cabbage and I'll show you someone who's never had a Vietnamese salad.

Bo Nuong La (Stuffed Grape Leaves). Helen insisted I try this dish. At first I thought to myself, "Grape leaves? In a Viet. restaurant?" Oh but Helen, you were SO right. You don't really know what to expect when you first grab a hold of these bite sized rolls. What on earth could they taste like.? I've had many a Mediterranean stuff grape leaves in my day. But these were oh so special. Hot and juicy from the meat fat in the middle. Salty and meaty just what you wanted at that moment. That's the kind of experience it was for me. It was so good we ordered another.

Goi Cuon Chay (Tofu Rolls). My appetizer list wouldn't be complete without spring rolls. I really prefer these in the summer when the veggies that go inside are fresh, but sometimes you just gotta have'm.

Bok Choy Xao Toi (Stir Fried Bok Choy w/ Garlic). This begins our dinner ordering. In true Asian fashion we must have at least 2-3 million plates on the table, so we just order more and more sides. Bok choy is a very light mustardy green that is found in a lot of CHinese cuisine. This simple dish is just bok choy sauteed with garlic. So simple and so delicious.

Muc Nuong Xa (Grilled Squid). I'm always skeptical of ordering squid at a restaurant. More often than not it comes out over cooked with the texture of those fat rubber bands you used to get around your produce. This was definitely an exception to that rule. They prepare the squid perfectly and fry it with some nice chili and fish sauce and the texture is like that of firm tofu. Just amazing. If you like squid you gotta try this dish.

Tom Nuong Xa (Grilled Shrimp). It's a gamble to order shrimp on a Sunday, but we're still short of meeting our 2 million plate quota on our table. So we went ahead and tried these. They won't blow your socks off, but they are well prepared and have just the right amount of kick to them.

Bo Tai Chanh (Raw Flank Steak). The chef took the liberty of ordering a couple plates for us and just brought them out. This was the first of such dishes. This dish really stands out in my head as one of those original flavors that I think will stick with me for the rest of my life. Just like the first time I had carpaccio, this dish excited me to the point where I thought I should stop eating instantly because nothing can beat this flavor. There was a definite lime taste with caramelized onions and a sweetness I couldn't place my finger on. Also, don't be alarmed this is a totally raw beef dish. If you get squeamish at the idea of eating raw meat then steer away from this one. But for you adventurous viewers out there . . . you MUST get this dish.

Grilled Pork Chop. This was the second dish that the chef just brought out. He must like how we can finish off a dish before the plate even hits the table. Anyways, the dish itself wasn't my favorite because I feel like it moved away from the Vietnamese style of dish to a more Chinese style. It was heavier than most, even still the pork was prepared very well.

Bun Muc Nuong (Rice Vermicelli w/ Grilled Squid). This is almost the exact same as the Grilled squid app. but this one is served with the vermicelli noodles and a fish sauce based sauce.

These are the fix'ns that go with every Pho dish. They usually include fresh bean sprouts, thai basil, jalapenos, and wedges of lime.

Pho Dac Biet (Deluxe Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup). Kinda like the piece de resistance, Pho noodle soup is the way I judge a Vietnamese restaurant. Without a good broth Pho noodles are nothing. Without the perfect texture of pho noodles this dish is nothing. Without a relatively LOW PRICE this dish is nothing. So . . . how does this Pho stack up? Well, the broth was rich and full of well balanced spice flavor. A lot more anise than most pho broth I've had and a little saltier. The noodles were nice and al dente, and the cost was just in the right place. I think most pho should be between 6-8 dollars and it should be a hefty portion. If you're paying more than that, you're over paying. This was the Dac Biet variety of Pho which pretty much means there are all sorts of animal parts in it. All of which are a great addition to the dish if you can handle eating them.

If you'd like more information about Vietnam Grill please click here.