Sometimes life gives you a difficult decision. And sometimes there is no “right” choice. Case in point: On what felt like basically the hottest day ever in Hue, Vietnam, we were given the choice of eating in a somewhat touristy restaurant with air conditioning or an “off the beaten path” restaurant without. We chose the former and found ourselves at Y Thao Garden Restaurant. And of course, within minutes of setting food, having not eaten a bite, we all felt like we had made the right decision.
Hoi An might be one of the coolest little towns in the world. It reminded me of the water towns not far from Shanghai, except with a modern touch that seems to blend seamlessly with the old. And like any cool little town worth its salt, Hoi An has a couple of dishes that claim to be indigenous to the town. As such, we made our way to Green Heaven in Hoi An to try out the goods.
Look, I’ve already confessed to not being the biggest banh mi guy, but that doesn’t mean I was not eager to find the most badass banh mi that Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) had to offer. Therefore, I knew I had to make my way to Banh Mi Huynh Hoa. The internet informed me that the lines could often be massive, but that they would mostly be filled with locals. But I had a little trick in my back pocket.
Fast food is an amazing thing. And what’s more amazing is that soup is kind of the original fast food. Sure, it has to be prepared way in advance, but once that is done a meal is just a scoop away. Pho 24 has elevated the combination of fast food and soup to an art. It can be found in Vietnam, a number of Asian countries and even as far away as Australia and I paid a visit to one in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).
Hell’s Kitchen may not be the typical neighborhood to head to for Vietnamese food in New York. Granted, I don’t know where the typical neighborhood for such food might be, but my coworkers thought I was crazy to head that way. Once again, though, I put my faith in my brother-in-law and his wife and found myself at Cha Pa’s looking at a vast menu with a ton of delicious-looking options. I began with a Tiger Beer.
Not too long ago, Vietnamese food suddenly became cool. At first everyone was probably like, “What the shit are pho and banh mi and how do you pronounce these things?” but now they’re all like, “It’s pronounced ‘fuh,’ idiot.” Somewhere in the middle of all this, Good Girl Dinette appeared in the formerly sketchy turned contentiously gentrifying neighborhood of Highland Park. Yes, just like every other damn city, LA has a Highland Park of its own.
What do you call a restaurant called Abricott? Do you pronounce it like apricot? Do you slow it down and enunciate everything? Or do you just refer to it as “that Asian place down on Lake”? I prefer the latter option, because at the end of the day that’s really what it is. Abricott is loaded with a variety of different Asian offerings, like Korean, Chinese, Thai, and all that jazz. On this day, though, it was the Thai that struck me.
After crossing the border back into the good old USA from Canada, it was time to visit a border-crossing restaurant – namely Saigon Bangkok (the borders being Vietnam and Thailand, which of course don’t even border each other). Where many Asian restaurants purport to be one thing while offering additional options, Saigon Bangkok unabashedly offers multiple options and keeps them limited to just that. While I’m a fan of both cuisines, in this case I concentrated all my efforts on Thai.
One might think that pho would be a little too “wintry” of a food for the springtime. But in Pittsburgh, that is certainly not the case. So when, on a chilly spring evening we were invited to try out a supposedly delicious Vietnamese pho spot in Bloomfield, we couldn’t say no. Called Tram’s Kitchen, the menu featured more than just pho, but we were there for one reason only (okay maybe two if you count spring rolls).
In the hotbed of food culture known as Palm Desert, California, we went off to dinner with my aunt and uncle, who were craving some Thai food. After some extensive searching using the newfangled interwebs, we found a place called Le Basil. Rather than being confined to Thai food, Le Basil expanded to another area of Southeast Asia and integrated Vietnamese food into their menu. Although this only covered 2 of the 11 sovereign nations of Southeast Asia, it was enough for Le Basil’s menu to claim Southeast Asian cuisine (come on, where’s the balut?).