We here at Voracious have lately been fixated on pho, thanks to The Pho File , an ongoing project to catalog every pho joint>"/>
We here at Voracious have lately been fixated on pho, thanks to The Pho File, an ongoing project to catalog every pho joint in King County. But there's obviously so much more to Vietnamese cuisine than beef broth and noodles, as a meal at any of our 10 favorite Vietnamese restaurants make clear. Although many of these excellent restaurants serve pho, a number of them are equally skilled at spring rolls, grilled meats, bun and crepes, among other non-pho offerings worth putting down your spoon for.
The restaurants aren't arranged in any particular order, although the winning restaurant's secured the number one spot. Our finalists and winner are described in contributor comments compiled by Erin Thompson.
10. Green Leaf
Across the board, the dishes at Green Leaf are presented beautifully, and there's no scrimping on size. Regulars here are often fiercely loyal to their dish of choice, whether that's the pho, the remarkably large vermicelli noodle bowls that teem with meat and veggies, or the Seven Special Courses of Beef for Two. The specialty fried-duck noodle soup, which comes with fresh veggies and egg noodles, is a standout. Those in the know also revel in Green Leaf's hole-in-the-wall anonymity, touting it as a Tamarind Tree without the hype.
9. Moonlight Cafe
There are two menus at Moonlight, one with meat entrées, the other with fake-meat entrées. The vegan menu lists its offerings as though they contained real meat, so bring a steak lover, hide the meat menu, and order the "sesame beef" and wonton soup. The combo appetizer platter shouldn't be used to trick anyone (although the egg rolls that come on it sure could), the "pork" skewers are fantastic, and the roll-your-own fresh spring rolls are a delicious adventure.
8. Pho Bac
Pho Bac is no one's idea of a cutesy theme-park restaurant. It is a small, weirdly shaped pho shack plunked down right on the ragged borders of the I.D. The original location is fundamentally unchanged from the day it opened, decades ago, under a small sign in an old sandwich shop, serving beef noodle soup and offering a few long, brown, cruller-shaped loaves in a case by the door for those looking for a true French-Vietnamese experience. On a good day, when the heat is rising and the fitful sun makes an appearance, the ladies working the galley will open the back door to catch a little breeze. The gleaming silver rotary slicer, from which falls the sliced top round that makes up the pho tai, is set up right by the back door. From the parking lot, you can watch them working, leaning into the machine, prepping bowls with a speed that borders on magic.
7. Hoang Lan
Hoang Lan is one of the Othello Station restaurants that made it through the light-rail construction. While there are soups, broken rice dishes, and vermicelli bowls on the menu, it's the meaty, offal-y bun bo hue (with rice vermicelli noodles) that is most captivating. There might be better elsewhere, but this hole-in-the-wall has its peculiar charm, with the owner always whistling a tune or singing along to the Vietnamese variety show on the television in a corner of the small dining room. Note: Cash only.
Since the first location opened on Aurora in 1996, the Than Brothers chain has been growing in the greater Seattle area at a rate nearly equivalent to a store a year. The newest joint is Kirkland, #14, and should have included the chain's ceremonial crowning as the undisputed kings of Emerald City pho. The two keys to its success: the broth, flavorful enough to stand on its own and lending itself to numerous "pho-cessories" and a tabletop assortment of squeezable sauces, and the legendary cream puffs (three for $1.50)--light, fluffy, and consistently delicious.
5. Huong Binh
Huong Binh is not a pho shop; they serve one variety--pho ga--only on weekends. Not an inch of its menu is influenced by the modern, nouvelle French-Vietnamese style--no baguettes, no crisp crepes, no paté. The dumplings (banh bot loc) are made of tapioca, stuffed with ground shrimp and slivers of candy-sweet pork, then steamed to bubblegum chewiness and topped with dried ground shrimp. The banh beo chen is split into five tiny crepes, each served in an individual bowl, garnished with ground shrimp and scallions, and swimming in fish sauce with scallions. What Huong Binh does is authentic, predominately Central Vietnamese food, much of it in the classic imperial Hue style--large platters meant to be broken down into small plates and bowls, heavily spiced and carefully prepared.
4. Ba Bar
Here's a restaurant-selection secret: Ask your server where he eats. In Seattle, the answer's bound to be Ba Bar, a very now Vietnamese bistro that's endeared itself to local practitioners of the food-and-beverage trade by keeping ridiculous hours and offering unassailable versions of dishes familiar from joints that don't bother with Draper Valley chicken, Painted Hills brisket, and organic tofu. Ba Bar serves a fantastic, flavorful pho, restorative and nuanced through the last slurp, and a mi vit tiem that resounds with duckiness. The bar is as skilled as the kitchen, mixing gorgeously balanced cocktails that rival drinks served anywhere in the city--which may also help explain why the restaurant's so popular with off-duty servers.
In a town awash in Vietnamese food of all stripes, from high-end to the tiniest hole-in-the-wall pho joint, Ben Thanh offers the best of all worlds: a pleasant setting, authentic food, good service, and prices that can't be beat. Sports might play silently on the televisions as tables full of Vietnamese men drink beer. The servers coming to your table are always happy to make suggestions--there's more to the menu than what's printed, so it pays to ask. The food is always fresh, and it tastes pretty darn close to what you'd get at its namesake, the central market of Saigon.
2. Pho So #1
They're number one! In a city clogged with pho shops, how does one kitchen distinguish itself from the next noodle soup shop? By keeping it simple! Pho So's chefs beef up the broth that's the foundation of every pho worth a damn. The rest of the menu reads like every pho restaurant's greatest hits: rice noodle salads better known as bun (pronounced sort of like boone) and stir-fries served over rice. Be sure and start with a super-fresh salad roll. The updated dining room is a great space to come with large parties.
When Tam Nguyen first brought Tamarind Tree to the heart of Seattle's Little Saigon, it turned the city's Vietnamese dining scene on its head. Here was what looked like a Manhattan cocktail lounge, with gourmet fare that broke new ground and invigorated old taste buds, and yet the menu--at $10 to $25 a plate--meant it was affordable enough for the Little League team after the big game. Today, Tamarind Tree has lost none of its charm and added plenty of new creations. Dishes like the fresh lotus-root salad with prawns and the steamy and spicy chili beef lemongrass, paired with a cocktail like the roasted-chili martini, make for an ace dinner. And for lunch, there's no fresher and more aromatic bowl of pho to be found.
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