Back in December of last year, I posted on Taqueria Aqui es Jalisco. The meal was not quite up to par and the place looked really, well, almost temporary. In fact, I wrote "I'm not sure how this place is going to do......." in the last paragraph of the post. A couple of months later they were gone and a sign went up for a new Vietnamese restaurant, which opened this past summer named Nhat Vy.
Driving past, I have to honestly say I didn't get too worked up about the Pho-Banh Mi-Coffee sign. I mean, it's not like we're short of places that serve the stuff in the area, right? About a week later, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check them out. I remained uninspired when I entered the place and saw the steam table set-up. But changed my mind when I was handed the menu. Banh Hoi....Banh Cuon...Bun Rieu.... my pulse quickened. Only to come crashing to earth when told they didn't have any of those dishes on this morning. Man, I really wanted some Banh Cuon. I had been going through photos of our trip to Vietnam and kept running into photos of Banh Cuon, in Sapa, Hanoi, and even Bac Ha. I was bummed....
So what to do when your first three choices aren't available? I went with the sign and the Pho Dac Biet ($6.99).
The meat was just about average....total middle of the road stuff, nothing to get excited about. Plus, it was a thousand degrees even at 8 in the morning, which really didn't help matters.
This being the middle of July, I really couldn't bring myself to go back. Here was a one-shot deal that would end up in one of my COMC (Clearing Out the Memory Card) posts.
And yet, the menu stuck with me......seeing the other items kind of kept nagging away. Until almost exactly three months later, when things had cooled down, I decided on dropping by for an early breakfast. By this time the menu had morphed into a multi-page deal with photos. Sad thing was there was no Banh Cuon to be seen.
This was pretty early in the morning and I wasn't feeling like Bun Rieu, so I went with Bun Rieu's lighter cousin, Canh Bun ($7).
My first impression of the broth was really positive, it seemed light, not too "crabby", I did add some mam nem which is kindly provided, this really added some umami punch. The herbs were fresh and the quantity good. The noodles were firm and wonderfully slippery, the ong choi (water spinach), added a nice crunch and substance to this. Loved the fried tofu, the shrimp cake didn't have enough flavor for me, but was veyr light in texture. I could have done without the "oc" (periwinkles), of which there was a generous amount....these were just too chewy.
About halfway through I started feeling the effects of MSG....not over-powering, but enough to know it's there. Still, I thought this was decent and even sent a photo to my good FOY (Friend of Yoso), "YummyYummy". I guess the photo must have looked great because they marched right over and ate.
YY reported back that the Bun Rieu was quite good and the Banh Cuon, which they make in house and takes a while, was also worth a try. Banh Cuon? But I hadn't seen that on the menu? What the heck? So a couple of weeks later I headed over for some breakfast. The dining area is tiny and I've only seen other customers on one occasion.
Having arrived ravenous, I ordered the Bun Moc ($7) and then attempted to order the Banh Cuon, which isn't on the menu to the very sweet woman serving me. I say attempted because it took me four tries to get the pronunciation even close to where she could understand me. Yet she patiently stood there and helped me work this through.
The weather was just driving my sinuses into the ground, so this nice, clear soup was just what I needed.
The herbs where ever so fresh, the broth was indeed pretty mild and I really couldn't make out the "mushroom" flavor. There was a ton of protein in it, cha lua, meatballs, and a fairly surprising piece of pork spare rib. I looked at that piece of meat, which should have had "Goodyear" written on its side and then took a bite.....I was surprised at how tender it was.
And then of course, there was the Banh Cuon ($6). At long last.
It wouldn't be a stretch(no pun intended) to say that this is the best Banh Cuon in terms of texture in San Diego. The rice noodle is nice and thin and not too sticky. There's just the right amount of "pull" to it. The pork is fairly bland and while I like cha lua, this one is fairly bland. The nuoc mam cham has good spice, but other than that is fairly bland. The rau ram and blanched bean sprouts complemented the dish well, as did the fried shallots.
It matches up favorably with what I've had before.
Before leaving, I mentioned that banh cuon was not in the menu....the woman picked up a menu and looked through it. And sure enough, it isn't! We both had a laugh and she walked me to the steam table and pointed to the photo of the banh cuon and told me, "you come and point next time, ok?" I couldn't help but crack-up.
So there you go....I got my banh cuon, time to move on, right? Well not so fast....this past weekend the Missus was sleeping and YY and her hubby, MrQ had mentioned that they really enjoyed the Bun Rieu here......so of course:
I got the bun rieu. What I really like is that different sets for herbs are served for the pho versus the bun moc, versus the bun rieu. This was a fresh assortment of rau ram, perilla, banana blossom, and even some fishy-funky diếp cá.
As for the broth, it's much lighter and less complex then the rather heady version at Mien Trung. Personally, I prefer the stronger seafood-tomato flavors in that bun rieu. On the flip side, this one seems to have a lot less MSG....at least on this day.
For some reason I like the fried tofu here; it's nice a creamy. I'm still not a big fan of the "oc" in this as well.
It was "three for three" as again the noodles were prepared well....they also used the thinner bun, the appropriate noodle for bun rieu.
I'd easily have this again.......
I'm hoping this place does well. The folks here are really nice, but there's a real shortage of parking on the street....actually there's a couple of stalls in the back of the place as well. This location is not the best, as proven by Aqui el Jalisco's short run and the previous shop at this location, The Torta Factory.
Over the years I've seen my share of Vietnamese Restaurants that I've enjoyed going to, that are just not able to make it. Sometimes, like Huynh Hoa Tuu, they serve great stuff, then suddenly shut down and leave town. Or like Nam An, they start strong but are not able to sustain the quality, service, or portions....I'm still fairly certain that they won't reopen. I hope I'm wrong. And I hope that Nhat Vy sticks around.....
Nhat Vy Vietnamese Restaurant
4595 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92115