I can eat my weight in Vietnamese food. Bún Thit Nuong Cha Gio (rice noodle salad with grilled pork and fried spring roll) is one of my all time favorite dishes - anywhere, ever. It's on the shortlist of foods that, when I'm having a shitty/moody/apathetic day, can turn things on a dime, leaving me so full of rainbows you'd think it was me and not my darling husband that's the eternal optimist. It's that good.
Our second night in Minneapolis, our host ordered dinner from his go-to Vietnamese restaurant, Quang - a variety of three different búns and an order of shrimp summer rolls. We jumped in the car for the pickup - the restaurant is located on what residents refer to as Eat Street, a 17-block stretch of Nicollet Avenue housing some 50 independently-owned ethnic restaurants - an area we were eager to get to know well.
Quang most certainly has curb appeal - a large place, especially in comparison to the much smaller storefronts on its peripheral. It has a sizable parking lot packed to the gills, and a steady stream of happy bellies wandering slowly back to their vehicles, eyes glossy and the soft smiles of satisfaction swept across their lips. We grabbed our order and dashed back home, eager to discover our own post-meal bliss.
In short, our meals were fine. They were straightforward, well-produced with all the right flavors and freshness, but they were nothing special. To be fair, we did take out and will have to return for dine-in, but while Quang may be the favorite of many in the area, our search would continue.
Back at Eat Street a few weeks later, we pull into a parking lot immediately across from the popular Quang. We're excited to discover the little shop that is My Huong Kitchen, a tiny storefront with a couple aluminum tables outside in the strip mall. The outside tables are full, and we're happy enough to hang out inside with just one other guy. Ten or so tables fill the space, alongside a takeout counter and fridges stocked with jelly drinks and miscellaneous grab and go stuffs; we're ushered to a table and handed menus.
The options are few, but the variations on each are extensive. I'm in for my signature Bún Thit Nuong and get a quick pronunciation lesson from the very welcoming manager. My soup-loving man orders their Pho Special, and we're always in for a shrimp summer roll.
The dishes arrive and smell heavenly - the incredible balance of fresh, heat, sweet and sour in Vietnamese cuisine was one of the driving reasons we spent three weeks traveling the country last year - we can't get enough. If you're not familiar with the flavors, I love and highly recommend the Serious Eats breakdown.
My bún is leaps and bounds more flavorful than the same from Quang. One bite of the spring roll and I'm sitting back in my chair, eyes partially open, focused only on rolling the flavors around in my mouth - this is one of the best spring rolls I have had in this country. When I come to, Bill's pushing his bowl of steaming pho in front of me. He doctors his soup before even trying it - sriracha, extra jalapeños and hoisin - the broth is swimming with muddy-rich color. It's also delicious, especially the meatballs, though it seems unfair to judge their broth once we've meddled.
His drink comes well after the food - so much so we think it's forgotten (and nearly forget ourselves). One sip of the Vietnamese iced coffee and he's glazed over and staring into the cup. The flavor is as good as the one we enjoyed in the tiny café owned by our guide's sister well off beaten path and chock-full of regulars on the outskirts of Hue. Of course, that version was a traditional ca-phe sua da served still dripping over ice with a can of condensed milk (see images below), but the flavors are captured perfectly here in their version. Incredible.
Though I longed to order the crepes for dessert, we opted for two of the fruit shakes in avocado and red bean to finish our meal. I have been caught filling my purse with sesame red bean paste balls off a buffet in Florida - I LOVE the delicate sweet and mildly starchy flavor of red beans - the shake was delicious and more flavorful than the avocado.
The service, warmth, flavors and price-point of this tiny hidden gem make it our current favorite for Vietnamese in the Twin Cities - though we're happy to test any challengers. We're due back at My Huong (maybe tonight after writing this!) to try their banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), Hai-nam Chicken and most definitely their crepes - all pictured below and all of which get stellar reviews.