Pho Viet - Columbia, SC

Vegetarian Spring Rolls

We didn't expect much from this highway side Vietnamese restaurant but we were pleasantly surprised when the prices were cheap and the portions, huge.

Combination Fried Rice

Every Asian culture has their own style of fried rice, and I would venture to guess none of them are very traditional. This style is more chinese influenced using thai style rice. I could go on at great lengths about the different types of rice used as well but it wouldn't interest anyone. In any case I love fried rice, but it's rare that I would pay money for it since it's mostly left over parts throw together to make plain rice cost more.

Pork Bun with Spring Roll and Shrimp

Bun is one of my go to dishes for Vietnamese food. It's great for a hot summer day and the flavors are all over the board in a very good way. The rice noodles, are usually topped with a protein of your choice (I highly recommend grilled pork) and served with fresh veggies and a fish sauce based dressing. It's sweet, salty, sour, and delicious.

Bun Bo Hue

I love bun bo hue as a spicy alternative to pho. The difference between the two dishes is huge. The broth is spicy, the noodles are thicker, and the overall palate flavor is a lot fattier. If you've never tried it, give it a go the next time you need to quench you pho craving.


And speaking of pho, Pho Viet gives you a LOT of it. I prefer the extra tendons (Em can't handle the texture) with rare sliced beef and meatballs. If you didn't take my recommendation to try Vietnamese food the last time go out and try it now.

--Joe Kwon

Pho Viet - Saratoga, CA

On our most recent trip to the West Coast, my buddy Zack met up with me at our hotel and we finally got to spend some long deserved time together. Zack and I have been compadres since my climbing days at UNC, where in fact, I met a lot of my best friends. There's nothing like putting your life in someone's hands to build trust and lasting friendships.

"The itch," as my cousin calls it, was hitting me pretty bad. I had to find some good cheap noodle soup, STAT! I hit up Yelp!, my first line of research when it comes to unknown territories, and found a restaurant that had a 3 star rating with over 50 reviews, and only one "$". This is a winning combo. You see it's not so hot that people give it 4-5 stars because everyone else does, or because it costs so much people feel bad about how much money they spent, and therefore, lead other people to go spend money there for bad food. You get it? It's a science using these internet review sites.

Now that I've given away my technique for finding local spots, let's move on to the food.

Fresh Spring Rolls
I remember the first time I had fresh spring rolls. It was a light bulb moment, an epiphany. At that moment, it made so much sense how to use mint. If you've never had fresh spring rolls, they are a thin rice paper egg roll of sorts filled with rice noodles, shrimp, pork, mint, carrots, and sometimes bean sprouts. The combination is a light appetizer with tons of great texture and flavors. They are usually served with any variety of dipping sauces. Here is a sweet chili sauce called mae ploy and a peanut sauce.

BBQ Pork and Shrimp
In my honest opinion, there are two things that the Vietnamese do exceedingly well. Those two things are grilled pork (pictured above) and pho (pictured below). The marinade is a mixture of sweetness with lemongrass and garlic and ginger maybe. It's so hard to tell and very distinctive of Viet. food. Since we had a huge bowl of pho coming our way we decided to get the rice dish instead of bun, the traditional vermicelli noodle version. Here the dish is served with some lettuce, pickled daikon and carrot, and rice.

Now it's a toss up between Japanese style ramen noodles and Vietnamese pho for my favorite noodle dishes. Generally, pho is cheaper and the portion size is huge leaving you extremely thirsty and way too full. While ramen noodles are packed full of rich complex flavors that leave you equally thirsty. And, I think that some things are left un-ranked.

If you've never had pho, go get some. Now. Pho is a rich beef broth based, vermicelli rice noodle soup. The flavors are all very light, and unoffensive. You'll taste some star anise and cinnamon along with a myriad of other flavors.

Extra Beef Tendon
One of my favorite parts of pho are the odd bits of meat and meat parts that are floating around in the rich beefy broth. Probably my favorite part is the beef tendon. Tendon is mostly textural and just adds a little edge to your palate. Don't judge it till you try it though. You may learn that you ALSO love beef tendon!

--Joe Kwon

Click here for more info on Pho Viet.

Phuong Nam - Oakland, CA

Rare Beef Salad
Just a quick post on this little gem I stumbled upon in Oakland. As soon as I walked into this restaurant I knew I was going to enjoy this meal. There is a lack of decor or ambiance and in the front of the restaurant are the owners children running around and playing with coins from the register.

The thing I really love about Vietnamese food is how light and fresh all the flavors are. If you've never tried it I highly recommend the salads and pho. The beef salad above is a rare beef salad that is topped with all sorts of fresh veggies and caramelized garlic and onions.

Fresh Sprouts, Basil, Lemon, and Jalepenos for the Pho
These are like fresh condiments to pho. Pho is a rice noodle soup dish that has a very flavorful beef broth and various kinds of meat. I usually like pho dac biet because of the various meat parts that add to the texture of the meal. The broth here was really nice and rich with beef flavor and the veggies were extremely fresh and fragrant.

Pho Dac Biet
I hope you're sold on considering Vietnamese the next time you go out to eat. If you want suggestions on what to order please feel free to ask!

--Joe Kwon

Xich Lo - Oslo, Norway

We had the day off here in Oslo, Norway and I would have done more had I not realized that Oslo-ans make 4 times more money than we do in the states and therefore everything is 4 times more expensive. We found out that McDonald's employees make a whopping 130kr (~20USD) per hour! You can't go to Burger King and get a whopper meal for less than $15 USD. Needless to say it was going to be a challenge to try to find a place that would satisfy my yearning for good food and keep it under 20 bucks.

I had my work cut out for me but I did the classic move of asking around. My first thing to ask was . . . "Where should I eat? Lemme rephrase that. Where should I eat and not pay and arm and a leg?" The concierge lets out a chuckle and gives me this look as if saying "Silly American you can't eat for cheap in Oslo!" I guess I'm a poor judge of character because he says "Just down the street is a great little Vietnamese place, hardly anyone in the place and it's very reasonably priced. It's just above the 7 Eleven on the second story of the building." I was floored, he just hit all the points I was looking for: 1) Vietnamese, 2) Cheap, 3) Hardly anyone there! Have I just been blessed again by the culinary gods?!

Xich Lo is very nice. I'm not going to say it's a cheap dive you can find authentic Vietnamese food in. In fact they don't actually have any authentic dishes at all. The dish I got was what would traditionally be a Chicken Bun (vermicelli noodles with grilled chicken). The restaurant didn't even have pho which I was hoping for. Nonetheless, the food was very well prepared and flavorful. And the nice lemon, mint, orange water, that they serve with the food is a nice touch too.

--Joe Kwon

For more information click here.

Local Eats: Bánh mi Saigon Sandwiches & Bakery

I'm all about some good food. If it's cheap, well . . . it tastes even better! This little spot on High Point Rd in Greensboro is a foodie haven. The sandwiches are cheap, delicious, and fresh. In fact whenever I stop off I always grab a couple sandwiches to eat later in the week. A classic sandwich consists of some onion, cilantro, carrot, cucumber, pate, jalapenos, and a special mayo sauce. Simple!

Did you happen to notice the prices?
You just can't beat it. I recommend the #1 with extra jalapenos and paté!
They also sell these other little treats in the store as well. I'm guessing everything is made in house so it's probably all delish.
I'm not quite sure what these taste like but something tells me you should ask before you buy. Nothing like thinking you're gonna get a desert and it turns out to be seaweed soup.
These are right next to the cash register and cost a little more than the sandwiches if I'm not mistaken. Just little desert treats that you can eat later.
These make great breakfast sandwiches with a strong cup of coffee. I can't tell you why, they just do. This is a classic Bánh mi sandwich.

If you've got a moment for lunch and you live in G-boro, check out this little family owned shop. You WON'T be disappointed. Click on this Google link for address and direction info.

--Joe Kwon

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.