IN NAMING HUYNH (912 St. Emanuel St.), the beloved family-run eatery in EaDo, one of "100 Restaurants America Can't Afford to Lose" at the end of last year, the editors of Esquire opine: "Visiting Houston without eating Vietnamese food would be like going to Bologna and neglecting the pasta."
Indeed, are there any true Houstonians who haven't succumbed to the pleasures of a hearty bowl of pho or a loaf of tasty banh mi? The sheer breadth and availability of Vietnamese food in Houston — home to the third-largest population of Vietnamese in the United States — puts it right up there with Tex-Mex, Indian food and barbecue as a quintessentially Houstonian cuisine.
The Mi Quang rice-noodle dish with pork, shrimp, fish cake and banana blossom at Huynh
One of the most exciting places to try Vietnamese food at the moment is the new Xin Chao (2310 Decatur St.). A joint project between Masterchef season-three winner Christine Ha (who also owns The Blind Goat at Bravery Chef Hall), and Saigon House chef Tony Nguyen, the modern Vietnamese menu interprets Vietnamese food from a local lens, incorporating Southern flavors and Gulf Coast ingredients. Opening menu standouts include a smoked duck and jackfruit salad, a smoked beef rib and pan fried rice noodle, and an incredibly memorable Nguyen-er Nguyen-er Fried Chicken Dinner, wherein the batter is infused with notes of lemongrass and pandan leaf.
Returning to Downtown's Underground Hall (formerly known as Conservatory Food Hall) any day now, chef Danny Nguyen brings back his family-recipe pho broth at The Pho Fix. A build-your-own bowl concept, the soulful broth is complemented by toppings like beef rib and bone marrow.
Over in Asiatown, Bodard Bistro (11360 Bellaire Blvd.) — known for its nem nuong cuon grilled pork sausage spring rolls and its phenomenal banh xeo Vietnamese crepe — relocated to the Universal Shopping Center, the same strip mall that houses Crawfish and Noodles, whose chef, Trong Nguyen, was named a Best Chef of Texas finalist in the 2020 James Beard Awards.
Le Colonial's upstairs private-dining room
Just down the street, French-Vietnamese pastry shop Desseire (10600 Bellaire Blvd.), by brother and sister team Julie and Olivier Do, have already earned a strong following for their pandan cupcakes, Canelés de Bordeaux, and French macarons in flavors like lychee and black sesame.
Which brings us to French-Vietnamese restaurant Le Colonial. Still the best place in Houston to enjoy top-notch service and chef-driven Vietnamese fare (the concept chef, Nicole Routhier, is a cookbook author and authority on Vietnamese cuisine), the restaurant boasts a see-and-be scene even thoughout the pandemic, thanks in part to its wrap-around patio near the entrance to River Oaks District.