Cheap Eats 2015: Vietnamese Food


Pho An Sandy

6236 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-2990, Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

There is no consensus pick for the city's best shop named after pho, with preferences ranging generally among Hung, Oregon, and An Sandy. 

What sets Pho An Sandy apart as a favorite certainly isn't the décor. Situated in an old drive-thru taco shop, the restaurant from a former partner at Pho Oregon has an interior that could charitably be called "spartan," with hard chairs and linoleum-covered floors and tables. And it isn't even the base for the pho that makes it the best, with broth that isn't quite meat-sticky enough to rank with favorites elsewhere, whose broth recalls liquid steak.

But Pho An Sandy nails pretty much everything else—right down to the hand-sorted teas they buy from Lily Market up the street. The restaurant may decorate its storefornt plainly, but the same doesn't go for the soup. They actually include culantro in your garnishes, and offer an outrageously addictive mix of bird's eye chilies and fish sauce on the table. And every rice plate we've had has been at least as good as the soup. Banh hoi dac biet ($13), which you'll find on the menu's last page of traditional Vietnamese dishes, is a sort of DIY goi cuon delivered as a tabletop-clearing plate of ingredients and accessories, including juicy ground beef wrapped tightly in the leaves of a pepper plant, rice noodles, two dipping sauces, dry half-moons of rice paper and the water to make them pliable, and an herb garden of crisp leaves and sprigs. Don't worry, they'll show you—or try, at least—the proper assembly technique. For dessert, there's everything you'd expect, plus a jelly-filled coconut, which is one of the very few things here that proves more novelty than flavor.

Just assume that "pho" is in the restaurant's name because "Traditional Vietnamese Dishes An Sandy" sounds weird. Start at the back of the menu and work your way forward. MARTIN CIZMAR.

An Xuyen Bakery

5345 SE Foster Road, 788-0866, Breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, breakfast and lunch Sunday.

[BASKIN BANH MI] For a second, the interior of this Vietnamese bakery feels like a Baskin-Robbins—one could be fleetingly fooled by the fluorescent-lit pastry cases and selection of brightly colored, family-friendly birthday cakes on display. But you'll find more grownup fare on the shelf below the pink Disney princess cake, like the hazelnut chocolate cookie ($.75). Buttery and flaky shortbread with a dab of unsweetened dark chocolate in the middle, it strikes an amusingly—and misleadingly—plain image next to Rapunzel. The menu isn't only pastries, though, easily spanning from breakfast to dessert, and on the lunch side of things, it's hard to go wrong with the banh mi ($2.99). Most popular is the lemongrass pork, but the lightly charred and well-seasoned soy curls are also delicious on the vegetarian "meat" sandwich—even better paired with the housemade, sweetened iced coffee. KAITIE TODD. 


8001 SE Powell Blvd., 774-2005, Lunch daily.

[BUBBLING UP] Founded in San Jose back in 2008, the Bambu chain is the Starbucks of Little Saigon, a fast-spreading chain making excellent versions of Vietnamese drinks. The Portland location had long lines when it opened last year. There's been some backlash given the limited hours and cash-only policy, but it still has 100 or so treats from Vietnam and Asia, including bubble tea, smoothies, coffee, milk tea, an excellent che 3 mau (number 3, $3.50) and super-tasty jello grass and pandan milk in coconut milk (number 9, $3.50). If you've saved room after brunching on dim sum or pho on 82nd, this is a nice little gem to have tucked in your back pocket. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Bun Bo Hue

7002 SE 82nd Ave., 771-1141. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

[GET THE BLOODY SOUP] Bun Bo Hue's namesake dish ($6.50) is best known from the stalls of Thailand's Dong Ba market in Hue, a legendarily complex noodle soup rich with flavors of shinbone, shrimp paste and pig-blood cubes. You needn't eat all the meat parts—as varied as the cat clocks, knickknacks and calendars that decorate the otherwise bare-bones space—but you will taste their effects in the spicy-sweet broth, in any of seven variations. It is delicious, a brilliant medley of flavors some might fear if left only to themselves, but which together are strong like an oxtail part. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ha & VL

2738 SE 82nd Ave., Suite 102, 772-0103. Breakfast and lunch daily except Tuesday.

[SOUP'S ON, FOLKS] Ha & VL's crab-flake soup made me forget all about condiments. It was one of the best noodle soups I've ever had, with large, silky rice noodles, perfectly cooked quail eggs, mushrooms, shrimp and shredded pork, all suspended in a thick, flavorful pork broth. And there's more where that came from. This tiny, lime-green dining room serves two soups daily, and the best one's on Sunday: turmeric noodles, with shrimp cake, shrimp, shrimp, pork, ground pork, shrimp, ground shrimp, pork and peanuts. But you seriously can't go wrong. As with everything else here, even the coffee with sweetened condensed milk is one of the best I've ever had.  ADRIENNE SO. 

Hanoi Kitchen

7925 NE Glisan St., 252-1300, Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday. 

[HIT A HOMER] The house specialty at this well-appointed, family-run spot is North Vietnamese steamed rice crepes (bánh cuon, $7-$7.75) which are made with Grandma's recipe and taste like it: supple noodles, fried shallots, and chopped herbs dressed with a bright lime-chili-fish sauce. Even something as wimpy-sounding as fried lemongrass tofu with vermicelli (bun dau hu, $7.50) is made with care, haste and a little more spice than you expected. The pho is serviceable, but soup-wise you're better off with hu tieu ($7.50-$8.95), rice noodles in a rich and salty pork broth or the mì de tiem ($9.50), an even richer, even saltier soup with thin egg noodles, fatty braised goat and bok choy in a shiitake mushroom broth. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Lela's Bistro

1524 NW 23rd Ave., 719-4744, Lunch Tuesday-Saturday, dinner Thursday-Saturday. 

[PORK BELLYFUL] A staffer at Willamette Week writing about Lela's warrants some disclosure: Our office is located right around the corner, and their banh mi sandwiches sustain many of us on deadline days. But ours is not a mere relationship of convenience. Even if I wasn't in the neighborhood five days a week, I'd make the trek for the pork belly alone—crispy chunks of fatty meat which you can either have stuffed in a thick baguette ($7) or spread atop a bed of rice noodles with bean sprouts, cilantro and pickled carrots and cucumbers ($7.95). Service slows at peak hours, but the warm wood interior is homey enough—it is a converted Victorian house, after all—that you won't mind staying a while longer than planned, especially if you're, say, procrastinating on finishing your restaurant reviews. MATTHEW SINGER.

Pho Oregon

2518 NE 82nd Ave., 262-8816. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

An oasis of Southeast Asian cuisine amid Duff's Garage and the Lumberyard, Pho Oregon's luxe utilitarian dining hall can drive culture-shocked newcomers toward familiar delights like the shrimp-filled, artfully-rubberized salad rolls ($4.95) or delectably-seared spare ribs with vermicelli ($10.25), but even the least-adventurous omnivore- should feel comfortable diving into a bowl of Vietnam's national dish. Arrive early enough to ensure fresh bread for dabbing up every drop of the Pho Oregon Special/dac biet's ($9.45) heaven-sent beef noodle soup, savor the none-more-tender meatballs and sliced steak, and leave alone the tripe, tendon, and mounds of brisket fat to further deepen the broth's simmering symphony of flavors. Clear eyes, pho hearts, can't lose. JAY HORTON.


902 SW Washington St., 971-258-2975, Lunch daily, early dinner Monday-Saturday.

[CART DOMESTIC] Rua is a richer, low-spice version of Vietnamese street fare that lets the French still have their say. The cart's Saigon fried chicken is a tenderly balanced sweet-spicy-sour version with little crispness on the skin, served in a rice box ($7) or boneless in a banh mi ($7). Stick with that chicken or the pork meatballs ($7), which are satisfying and sticky with sweetness. Spend $2 on a hilariously strong Vietnamese coffee whose bitterness cries out for sweet condensed milk that will do nothing to blunt the amped caffeine. An hour after your meal, you'll be chattering like an idiot about fried chicken, looking like you'll pop a blood vessel. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Tammy's Pho

3323 NE Killingsworth St., 282-2077. Breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday. Closed weekends.

[PHO UP] Along with serviceable egg rolls and teriyaki, this 76 station beer mart is home, every weekday before 4 pm, to its operators' sharp-salty take on pho ($6.50). Tack on the food order to your unleaded, and get a bowl of fresh-cooked beef flank and vermicelli in broth teeming with onions—a soup less umami-rich than it is floral with anise and scallion. Order it to go, and you can warm yourself on the road by sipping from its lidded plastic cup like it's a thermos full of Lipton. You'll feel comfortably at home even while driving far, far away. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. 

Yen Ha

6820 NE Sandy Blvd., 287-3698, Lunch, dinner and late-night daily, closed for lunch Monday.

[BLACKOUT VIETNAMESE] Change is afoot at Yen Ha, where families flock for traditional bites and drunks clamor for stiff drinks and karaoke. There's now a happy hour with items such as $6 Vietnamese beef stew and $5 spicy wings, which will be served under natural light with the upcoming addition of actual windows. But one thing that will hopefully never change is the sprawling menu, which features everything from seafood hot pots ($25 will feed two to three) that look like a massacre at Nemo's school to the best salt and pepper squid in town, plus traditional dishes like "shaking beef" and transparent bun tau noodles with crispy tofu. Most entrees run $7.50-$12, meaning you can sample the city's biggest menu of Vietnamese comfort food without going broke. Which is to say, don't bother with pho. Unless it's happy hour. It's $6. AP KRYZA.

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