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Banh beo are steamed, rice flour pancakes, topped with ground shrimp the same bright orange as a traffic cone, and green scallions like shards of

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Popsicles and Pork Meatballs at Huong Binh

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Banh beo are steamed, rice flour pancakes, topped with ground shrimp the same bright orange as a traffic cone, and green scallions like shards of jade. You pour fish sauce over the top and cut off bites with a spoon. The taste is like eating shrimp Jell-O garnished with pencil shavings only delicious. It's my favorite breakfast at Huong Binh, even if my breakfast comes somewhat later in the day than most other peoples'.

The banh hoi are woven baskets of noodles served with grilled pork or shrimp or pork meatballs, and the banh uot are wide, thick noodles (actually rice flour crepes cut into strips) topped with the unbelievably good chopped, grilled pork that the kitchen here puts on everything, with savory pork meatballs that squeak when you bite into them, with grilled shrimp fresh from the grates, or ground shrimp formed into balls and speared on sticks of sugar cane. There are weekday specials (like the bun cha Ha Noi) and a full spread of weekend specials (everything from a chicken pho and pork and black mushroom crepes to congee with blood sausage, pork tongue, liver and ear). Service is fast, and on a Saturday morning the wait at the door can be 20 minutes for a table pressed close among the jars of dried mangosteen, marinating eggs and tubs of Vietnamese candy.

What Huong Binh does is authentic, predominately Central Vietnamese food, much of it in the style of the classic Imperial Hue style--large platters meant to be broken down into small plates and bowls, heavily spiced and carefully prepared. This was once the food of kings and princesses, the court dinners of Vietnamese royalty. The style became so popular that it altered an entire regional cuisine before filtering out and becoming one of the baselines of American Vietnamese cuisine.

I spent last week cruising the International District, looking for kicks, fun and Vietnamese food. Matter of fact, I've spent most of my weekends cruising the I.D.--or at least part of most of my weekends--and I'm always looking for the same thing: to have my mind blown, time after time after time, by the amazing array of food being served to anyone with an adventurous soul and a few bucks in his pocket.

This time around, I came back with stories from Huong Binh, one of the best Central Vietnamese restaurants in the area, one of the best and most interesting I've found in quite some time. I loved the place for more reasons than I can detail here, but if you're interested (and I know you are...), you can read all about it right here tomorrow. Or, if you're feeling a bit more old school, pick up an actual newspaper, fold it under your arm, take it down to Little Saigon and eat while reading.

You could do a lot worse than Huong Binh, I promise you. And I don't think you'll be able to do much better.

 
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