Normally, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside isn’t my first choice for grabbing some grub. That’s pretty obvious. Then, one day, I heard about Hanoi Phở and their excellent curried soup. Always on the lookout for this variant on Vietnamese soup, I made a point to scope it out on the way downtown. My first reaction was, “Wow. That’s one crappy location”. Two blocks from Main & Hastings, next to a methadone clinic. Yikes. Upon further investigation here, here, here and here, it became pretty clear that this is one of Vancouver’s better Vietnamese restaurants.
Despite it’s location and underwhelming signage, Hanoi Phở has one of the cleanest interiors I’ve come across in a Vietnamese venue. If your looking for immaculate restrooms, this place is for you! Just ask for the key at the front counter.
This is one impressive little joint. A burbling waterfall off to one side. All sorts of knick-knacks here and there. Soothing Andean panpipes on the stereo. Highspeed wi-fi is on offer as well as a fax/printer if you require it. A very colorful, warm and comforting space.
Although I knew what I wanted beforehand, the table-talkers threw many more options at me.
Hanoi Phở offers up quite a wide-ranging, “homestyle” menu. All the usual suspects are here, as well as a strong vegan/vegetarian section. I, however, favor the meatier part of the menu:
I came here looking for Bún Cà Ri Gà (Curry Chicken Vermicelli Soup).
This is a rich and sturdy curry soup…full-flavored and dense with a slow, lingering heat. You really start feeling it about midway. Chicken breast wouldn’t of been choice #1…dark meat usually works better here. The addition of broccoli and cauliflower didn’t work for me either, initially. Turns out they’re just fine bathed in the phenomenal curry broth! I think this is where the “home-style” kicks in.
When the Chả Giò (Pork Spring Rolls) hit the table I was a tad disappointed. I figured this “authentic” Vietnamese restaurant would go with the traditional rice wrap instead of the wheat version. In this case the wrap didn’t matter much as the filling was exceptional. Well seasoned and crunchy with jicama and carrot, these are solid rolls.
The next weekend I dropped by again to check out their Bún bò Huế.
As with the Bún Cà Ri Gà, the Bún bò Huế is more home-style, less traditional. There’s no pig’s knuckle or blood cubes here. In fact, the meat quotient consists only of a few tender slices of flank. There’s a lot of fresh prawn and an over-abundance of scallion. The broth is a work of art. Deep, rich, oozing chile and lemongrass…the heat factor’s bang-on in my books. A solid whack of cilantro brightens it all up nicely.
Alongside a stellar Bún bò Huế, a refreshing salad roll.
The Gỏi Cuốn (Shrimp in Rice Paper Rolls) here are exceptionally fresh. Although at $3.50 a pop, about a buck more than standard.
Everything here is one or two dollars more than I’m used to. That don’t matter much. Quality ingredients and an extra-clean restaurant are always worth it.