May 2, 2010

Finally Went to Vietnam

Restaurant: Vietnam Cafe
Location: 522 Campbell St, KC MO
Food: Good, cheap pho and other Vietnamese classics
Service: Brisk, friendly
Atmosphere: A step up from typical KC Asian restaurant
Price: Cheap! Fill up for fast food prices.
Rating: One napkin

When it comes to Asian takeout, we all have our favorites. Recently I was chided for proclaiming that I was faithful to Saigon 39 in Westport, though, and it ended up finally pushing me out of my comfort zone.

When I asked my challenger for a better recommendation, he gave me the answer I was expecting to hear - the place that so many people have now told me is the best in town but I hadn't considered seriously enough to try - Vietnam Cafe in Columbus Park.So, after staying late at work one night last week, and knowing I was on my own for dinner, I decided to hit this place up for takeout on the way home.

After a quick perusal of reviews and recommendations on Yelp, the Pitch and other sites, I decided on some kind of soup. Someone had brought the spicy beef back from a lunch break recently and it looked delicious, so I made it my pick.

The friendly gal who answered the phone took my order promptly and hung up - didn't even ask my name. So I hastily buzzed over to be sure no one else was given my soup by accident before I could retrieve it. I've heard this joint gets very busy during the lunch rush and on weekends but lucky for me there were only a few diners there when I arrived. The dining room had a pleasant feel to it and the folks sitting there eating were smiling and laughing. They looked like regulars, very comfortable with the setting, almost like it was their own dining room. I like that.

I also like that you see so many Asian people eating here. There is a growing pocket of Asian families living in Columbus Park and the river market area now, evidenced by the handful of Asian grocers that have popped up in the area over the last few years. And just like any big city where ethnic groups settle together, everyone benefits from the establishments they form to cater to their own traditions... like great, authentic restaurants.

As I paid my cash and picked up my takeout containers, I was shocked by their weight. These were full dishes and I'd only paid $6.50 plus tax! The cloudy brown broth smelled scrumptious and had a slight amount of bright orange oil in it from the beef that provided its flavor.

I assembled the dish by first placing a heap of rice noodles in the bottom of my bowl - thick and slightly chewy, soon to be saturated with the flavors of my beef broth. I then layered on the thinly sliced beef, a huge slice of Fresno pepper (red jalapeno), the sliced veggies - cabbage, carrot and more, dropped in a big sprig of cilantro, and poured on the broth to cover it all. My box o' ingredients also came with a massive branch of purple-stemmed Thai basil that filled the room with a wonderful fresh scent. I decided that I didn't need it in my dish but was impressed that it was provided. Given its size, they must have grown it themselves, perhaps on the restaurant premises.

So how was it? Hot, satisfying, only slightly spicy, and fresh, through and through. Still, overall, I'd have to say pretty average. That's not a bad thing when it comes to Pho, I just wasn't completely blown away, the way I was told I would. Would I drive the extra distance to get this over my usual at Saigon 39? Probably not. But I'll certainly return for a cheap lunch on a regular basis now, since it's close to the office and there are groups who make the jaunt almost every day.

The food is good, the prices are great, the atmosphere is actually pretty decent... all in all a solid pick. Glad I went.

Rating: one napkin

Vietnam Cafe on Urbanspoon


karen said...

vietnam cafe takes credit and debit cards.

Foodie32 said...

Oh, thanks for the correction. I'll update the post.

karen said...

I love Vietnam Cafe. I was happy to see your review!

Anonymous said...

Columbus Park became "Little Vietnam" in the late 70's with the Hmong migration filling in the vacancy left over from "Little Italy". Vietnam Cafe is one of the oldest and perhaps the first K.C. vietnamese restaurant in continous operation. Please go back & eat in. Get the crispy shrimp & the spring roll for an app & order the pho or a bun dish. Use the condiments to spice it up to your liking & don't forget to order a Cafe Su Da.

Foodie32 said...

Anonymous: this is great history and great added value to my post. Thanks!
I will try your recommendation straight-up and let you know what I think. Sounds great!

Anonymous said...

You need to try the Bun (Vermicelli). It is amazing.

Anonymous said...

You need to try the Bun (Vermicelli). It is amazing.

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