*** Hoai Hue has moved a couple of blocks west. You can find and updated post here.
I first heard about Hoai Hue during a conversation about Bun Bo Hue, that wonderful Spicy Beef Noodle soup originating from the city of Hue in Central Vietnam. In fact, several sources have told me that Hoai Hue makes either the best, or second best Bun Bo Hue in San Diego. So about 3 weeks ago, I finally made it to Hoai Hue Deli.
Much like the instructions I received for Chinese Kitchen, I wasn't given a name, just a general location, with one really good piece of information......it was downstairs from Hung's Tattoo Parlor and a AA office. I think this tells you about the neighborhood. The location is rather seedy, and the parking lot is full of double and triple parked cars(I park on the street). A Vietnamese coffee shop, Cafe Viet occupies the area fronting the street. Notice the bars on the windows. I immediately knew that Ed from Yuma would love this place.
The interior of the restaurant is small, with 7 little tables. There is one copy of the small (20 items) menu on the counter. You place your order, and declare whether you'll be doing take-out, or be eating on the premises.
On the table sits the standard plastic tray of condiments, a napkin dispenser, and eating utensils. I placed my order for a bowl of Bun Bo Hue($5), and had a seat. I had lucked out, and gotten the only open table in the place, and watched a steady flow of customers picking up take-out orders, all the while mentally rubbing my hands together in glee thinking, "man, all these customers can't be wrong, this place must really be good."
At last my Bun Bo Hue arrived, along with the garnishes.
As you can see, the garnishes left much to be desired; a sprig of mint, lettuce, some bean sprouts, 2 whole chilies, and a wedge of lime.
The Bun Bo Hue, was a whole 'nother story:
The broth was good, very balanced between the flavor of beef, spiciness, and just a hint of sour. The pungent flavor I enjoy in Bun Bo Hue was missing, but I added some of the shrimp paste from the condiment tray to bring it up to my taste. The thick slices of beef were tender and had a good flavor. The tendon was served in pretty thick chunks that were borderline inedible. But the star of the show was the Pork Hock.
There was a good amount of soft and flavorful meat, instead of the usual, "inner tube on a bone" that most places serve. I also enjoyed the vermicelli, which seemed to be a bit thicker than the noodles served in most Bun Bo Hue. Overall, a pretty good bowl of Bun Bo Hue.
At that point I thought, I'd just do a Bun Bo Hue Dossier post, except that a few menu items caught my attention. Well, there can be only a few menu items, since the menu was really small. So, I decided to return in a few days, only to be derailed by a nasty virus. In the interim Ed from Yuma managed to pay Hoai Hue a visit. His post on Chowhound can be found here.
So this past week, finally recovered, I talked the Missus into having dinner at Hoai Hue. As we arrived and parked on the street, the Missus turned to me and said: "You have got to be kidding?" Ah yes, we had arrived. We entered and walked up to the counter. This time, when we tried to order, there was a communication problem....that is, no one spoke any English. Finally, someone from the kitchen who understood what we were ordering was found. There seemed to be at least 5 or 6 people working in the kitchen. Ordering done, we sat, and soon enough our food started arriving.
10 discs of rice cake smothered with ground shrimp, and topped with pork rinds and green onions, these had alot of flavor, and were much better than the version at Pho Tu Do. The Missus thought them a bit too fishy, but I enjoyed the texture and flavor.
These very filling balls of steamed rice flour were filled with shrimp and ground pork, and were not as oily as the version at Pho Tu Do. Our only complaint would be that these were served cold.
Banh Bot Loc($2.50):
Delivered steaming to our table were these tapioca starch dumplings wrapped in banana leaves. Those leaves imparted a smoky, tea-like fragrance and flavor to the Banh Bot Loc. The dumplings themselves were filled with shrimp and pork, and were the hit of the meal.
The Missus and I also split the Bun Bo Hue Dac Biet($6), the house special Bun Bo Hue, which came in a huge bowl.
The Missus has started enjoying Bun Bo Hue, Her favorite being the version at Pho Ca Dao. The difference, other than the quantity of ingredients, is the addition of two thick(3/4") slices of Gio Lua(Lean Pork Sausage). On this occasion, the three huge and thick slices of tendon were too tough and inedible, and the beef dry. I was wondering if the crew was just finishing up for the day, and perhaps things were just slowing down. The Missus enjoyed the noodles, She is not a fan of the vermicelli in most bowls of Bun Bo Hue, but enjoyed this version, though She found the broth lacking in rich saltiness and added fermented shrimp paste as well.
We ended up taking home about half of the appetizers, and enjoyed them a bit later on. As we were leaving we spotted two Women thoroughly enjoying themselves, they were having the same items we were, except they each had their own bowl of Bun Bo Hue. At the pace they were keeping, don't think they were going to have any leftovers......
Hoai Hue Deli/Food To Go
4776 El Cajon Blvd Ste 106
San Diego, CA 92115
Open Daily 8am - 7pm