2808 Milam St., Suite D
Houston, TX 77006
One big thing I was excited about when I was in Houston for a conference was to try their Vietnamese food. Houston has the third largest Vietnamese population in the United States, after Orange County’s enclave of Vietnamese around Westminster and San Jose. Given the density of the Vietnamese population as well as my experience with Vietnamese food going to school in Orange County, I wanted to see how Houston stacked up.
I originally wanted to go to Mai’s, considered by many to be the top Vietnamese restaurant in Houston, but since it was closed on Sundays I decided to go to the ostensibly second best reviewed Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Saigon. I took a cab a couple miles to Midtown and landed in a small strip mall, which seemed auspicious in my mind given the plethora of great hole in the wall Vietnamese places in tiny Westminster strip malls. Upon entering the place, the feel got even better as it seemed very much like a Vietnamese restaurant in Southern California – bare linoleum tables stuff with condiments, busy servers flying over the place with steaming bowls of pho, and barely decorated walls.
I sat down for my quick meal before my ride to the airport and ordered their combination beef pho, #44 on their menu. Since I love Vietnamese egg rolls and typically order 2 items to see a better spectrum of the kitchen’s ability, I ordered a small plate with 2 egg rolls as well.
Within 7 minutes, the bowl of pho came to my table. I immediately sipped the broth and found it spectacular in taste. The beef was not too strong and balanced well with the taste of star anise, cinnamon, ginger, and onion. The noodles were cooked fairly well, though perhaps just slightly more overcooked than I liked. The slices of beef were heavenly, seasoned well and just rare. They were also generous with the slices of meatballs, which was an added bonus. The egg rolls came later, and those were done superbly as well. It was crunchy without being too oily and the filling was dense and well seasoned, without being overwhelming. I was disappointed that they did not include more slices of pickled daikon and carrots, as well as leaves of lettuce to wrap the egg rolls in. However, that is just a minor error in an overall superior meal.
The service was efficient, but friendly as well. They generously refilled water, even as busy and moderately understaffed as they were. When I requested a little sauce plate for my sriracha and hoisin sauce mixture, they were eager to oblige. Finally, the check was delivered right after I was finished and I paid up at the counter as is customary.
Overall, I would say that Orange County is still the place to beat in terms of Vietnamese food, and pho in particular, but Houston gives a good run for the money. The prices were comparable as well, which was satisfying to my wallet. The best pho of my life still remains at Pho Nguyen Hue in Westminster, but Houston is certainly a destination for Vietnamese food in America.