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Saigon Pho

1 Mar

One of the few good things about this winter dragging on is that temperatures have remained optimal for Pho consumption. A large, piping hot bowl of Pho with a little bit of chili sauce it one of my favorite ways to warm up on a frigid day. Wichita has a great Pho scene, with restaurants spread all over the city so you are never more than 10 minutes away from Vietnamese soup. Saigon Pho is a newer option that is located on Harry just East of Oliver. It is actually just a couple of buildings away from the iconic and amazing Manna Wok.

Quick Cure for a Cold Day: Beef Pho

Quick Cure for a Cold Day: Beef Pho

Like many of the businesses along this stretch of Harry, Saigon Pho doesn’t look like much from the outside, but like many good things(especially restaurants) looks are deceiving. The dining area is small inside, but there is still room for a larger group to be comfortable.

The menu covers all the basic Pho combinations, including thinly sliced steak, meatball, and tendon, and is available in medium or large bowls. In addition they also have a few appetizers, fried rice dishes, Bahn Mi, speciality soups, and a vermicelli bowl called Bun. Several of these items are offered as lunch specials as well with prices that range from $5-$6.

On our visit I was torn between the Pho and several of the unique speciality soups, which included wonton noodle, spicy beef, and crab tomato. I ultimately went with the steak and meatball Pho, while Steph decided to try the wonton noodle soup. While we waited for our food the server must have thought we needed some entertainment because she turned on one of those terrible daytime TV shows. There’s a first time for everything I guess.

The key to good Pho is all in the broth. The meat and fixings are all about the same no matter where you go. You will never hear someone praising a restaurant’s Pho because of the bean sprouts. No, all judgement lies in the

Wonton Noodle Soup

Wonton Noodle Soup

mysterious and magical beef broth. Saigon Pho’s was very good. It had a rich and complex flavor with a hint of sweetness that I really liked. The lean slices of steak were served rare and finished cooking in the broth for a nice presentation. I would rank this version of Pho right up there with My Tho and Pho Hien, two of my favorites. The wonton soup was also a delicious meal. The broth was similar to that of the Pho, but sweeter and with a strong shrimp flavor. Several tasty wontons, shrimp, and plenty of noodles were also in the soup.

I was impressed with the quality of Saigon Pho’s soup and I hope that the word gets out about what they are doing. They also have a nice website with some entertaining descriptions of the menu items.

Banh Mi Ngon

10 Nov

Previously Published in the Wichita Eagle:

It used to be in order to find a Banh Mi sandwich in Wichita you had to travel to midtown, but now with the recent opening of Banh Mi Ngon things have changed. This small eatery, located at Central and Woodlawn, specializes in the delicious Vietnamese sandwich as well as serving up in-house pastries and drinks.

The dining room, if you can call it that, has the feel of a small coffee house. There are plush couches and chairs, just a few tables, and Wifi. It is a perfect space to relax, enjoy good food, and perhaps get some work done.

One of Wicita's Top Banh Mi

One of Wicita’s Top Banh Mi

The menu centers around Banh Mi, the traditional French influenced Vietnamese sandwich. There are several different sandwiches offered with meat options that include beef, chicken and pork. Each sandwich comes with jalapenos, sliced cucumber, cilantro, carrots, and Vietnamese mayonnaise. Homemade French baguette is the vessel by which all these ingredients are conveyed unto the diner. In addition, Ngon offers croissants stuffed with cream cheese or chocolate, a savory pastry called a Bird’s Nest with sausage, onion, cheese, and shredded chicken, spring rolls, and a daily special.

On our visit we ordered the traditional combination sandwich ($4.25) with ham, pork roll, and charisu pork (thinly sliced braised pork), a grilled pork sandwich ($4.25), a savory pastry ($2.49), a

Perfect Drunk Food

Perfect Drunk Food

chocolate filled croissant ($1.99), and a glass of their homemade soy milk. I was impressed with the quality and quantity of the ingredients in our sandwiches. The veggies were fresh and crisp, while the meat was tender and lean. I was especially impressed with the ham that had small pieces of pickled pig’s ear mixed in. For the less adventurous I recommend the glazed pork Banh Mi.  The sweetness of the thinly sliced pork balanced nicely with the jalapenos. The baguette was appropriately sized as to not swallow up the filling of the sandwich, and while it was high quality bread I would have liked it to be crustier. The Bird Nest pastry used the same bread as the baguette and was a delicious snack. One could make a killing selling these outside of bars at two in the morning. As for the dessert croissant, it was amazing. You really can’t go wrong with a good pastry filled with semi-sweet morsels, although it was not as flaky as I like. The homemade soy milk had a hint of ginger to it and was refreshing.

Mmmmm, Chocolate Filled Croissant

Mmmmm, Chocolate Filled Croissant

Banh Mi Ngon is a counter service restaurant and our server/cashier was very helpful in explaining the menu and offering samples. The prices were reasonable as our total meal was under $20. For those you with small children there are no high chairs, so carryout is probably your best bet.

Kimlan Sandwiches

26 Jul

If you are a fan of Banh Mi sandwiches then you should probably go eat at Kimlan right quick. This little place is nestled on North Broadway between two of the more popular Vietnamese restaurants in town, Saigon and Little Saigon. For that reason it may get passed over as people gravitate to the better known places, but if it’s Banh Mi you are after, this is THE place.

Kimlan Combo Bahn Mi

Kimlan Combo Banh Mi

Inside the small restaurant is a plain, but clean dining room with plenty of seating for lunch hour crowds. The menu is displayed at the counter and consists of 15  Banh Mi options, plus a Lo Mein lunch special. The sandwich combinations range from the typical BBQ pork and meatball to the more unique including the headcheese and pork roll variation. The sandwiches are cheap enough with prices ranging from $3.50 to $4. Some speciality Vietnamese drinks are offered including green tea and milk tea. They also have some pre-packaged food items available for purchase. I wasn’t quite sure what most of them were, but I almost pulled the trigger on some amazing looking steamed pork buns for a take home treat.

Not Available at Subway: Headcheese and Pickled Veggies

Not Available at Subway: Headcheese and Pickled Veggies

Feeling that we could each handle a couple of Banh Mi’s, we went with four. I ordered the Kimlan Combo and the adventurous Special Combo. Steph went with the Kimlan Combo as well and the Grilled Beef. Each sandwich is accompanied by pickled carrots, jalapeno, cilantro, and cucumber on the side so you have complete control of your veggie intake.

The Kimlan Combo contained BBQ pork, meatball and pork roll( a type of Vietnamese sausage). This warm sandwich was quite exceptional with its sweet pork pieces and tender meatballs. The pork roll added another layer of porky goodness, while the veggies provided some nice crunch.  The Special Combo is special because it is probably the only sandwich in Wichita that includes headcheese, although I hear Subway might be rolling out a headcheese sandwich of the month soon. For those of you not in the know, headcheese is a cold cut that contains meat from the head of a pig or cow set in aspic. While it may not sound good to anyone who’s not French, it’s really not that bad. The Special combo also comes with ham and pork roll. It was a pretty good sandwich, but I think some Sirracha sauce would have been a good addition. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the

Babies Love Banh Mi!

Babies Love Banh Mi!

bottle on the  counter until I had finished the sandwich. Steph and our son both enjoyed the grilled beef sandwich. The thinly sliced beef was marinated in a lemongrass-soy mixture that yielded a refreshing savory taste. Each sandwich is served on a perfectly sized loaf of fresh French bread.

Kimlan is an excellent choice for a quick and cheap lunch. Take two people, order 3 or 4 sandwiches and you will be satisfied with both the product and the price. Kimlan also has a good variety of sandwiches that will please even the most finicky or adventurous of eaters. The only complaint was the absence of high chairs. It was tough feeding an unrestrained 15 month old who was more interested in playing with the door rigged with a fire alarm.

KIMLAN Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Little Saigon

30 Apr

As I have said before you really can’t go wrong when dining on North Broadway, unless of course you suffer a momentary lapse of reason and wind up in the Spangles drive-thru. Little Saigon is a newer addition to the street and is located just down the block from the venerable grandaddy of Vietnamese restaurants, Saigon.

The owners of Little Saigon have done a nice job of updating the interior with plenty of seating and a clean dining room. Unlike several of the Vietnamese restaurants in town, Little Saigon features a full service bar with daily specials.

Doughy Pork Goodness

Doughy Pork Goodness

The menu covers all the essential dishes expected at Vietnamese restaurants including several varieties of Pho, noodle dishes, and rice bowls. There are also some Chinese and Korean dishes as well as exotic smoothie flavors. On our visit one of the daily specials were steamed pork dumplings and being a person that finds it hard to pass up any pork containing food, we ordered some. For our main course I went with a Banh Mi sandwich and Steph ordered a noodle bowl with shrimp.

The pork dumplings were a doughy treat. Served with a sweet dipping sauce, they were quickly consumed. My Banh Mi was filled with thinly

The Banh Mi

The Banh Mi

sliced pork, cucumbers, cilantro and julienned carrot and was served on a generous half loaf of French bread. The meat was tender and well seasoned, while the veggies were crisp and fresh. My only complaint  was it seemed there could have been more sandwich fillings to compete with the thick loaf of bread. The noodle bowl was filled with thin rice noodles, stir fried veggies, and shrimp with crushed peanuts and a sweet and savory sauce topping it all off. The dish was simple yet satisfying, which is something that the Vietnamese cuisine excels at.

Noodle Bowl with Shrimp

Noodle Bowl with Shrimp

Little Saigon is a solid and acceptable addition to the North Broadway dining scene. Since they are open seven days a week you can get your Vietnamese fix any time.

Little Saigon on Urbanspoon

Chiang Mai

22 Feb

Previously published in the Wichita Eagle:

Chiang Mai has flown under my restaurant radar for quite some time, but finally at the behest of a trusted friend, we headed down south to Hillside and 31st Street to see what it was all about. Judging by the bars on the windows, which in my experience is a good indicator of food quality, I expected a good meal. Inside we were unexpectedly greeted by a spacious and tidy dining room with pleasing hues of purple paint adorning the walls.

Duck Curry: Better than Whiskey on a Cold Day

Duck Curry: Better than Whiskey on a Cold Day

While Chiang Mai is primarily a Thai restaurant, their lunch menu (11am-3pm) encompasses highlights from several Asian countries including Vietnam and China. All lunch specials come with your choice of salad, soup or egg roll, plus dessert. One of my favorite cold weather dishes is Thai curry so I ordered a spicy bowl of the roasted duck curry (Gaeng Phet Pet Yang, $6.95). My wife went with the mild version of Mussman curry ($6.50). For our appetizers I had the soup, while my wife tried the egg roll.

Hearty Potato and Chicken Curry

Hearty Potato and Chicken Curry

The clear broth soup was simple, but satisfying. It consisted of sliced green onions, small rice noodles, and wonderful toasted garlic. The egg roll was small compared to some behemoths you can pick up at buffets around town, but it was fresh and enjoyable. The duck curry included bamboo shoots, cherry tomatoes, basil, and tender pieces of duck bathed in a wonderfully creamy and spicy sauce. Although I ordered it “spicy” it was not overpowering. This was some of the best curry I have had in Wichita. The Mussman curry was comprised of chicken, chunks of potato, and peanuts in another very good curry sauce. For dessert we each got a freshly fried round doughnut that was most excellent.

Baby Approved Doughnut

Baby Approved Doughnut

The service at Chiang Mai was superb. Our waitresses were very friendly and took an immediate liking to our 10 month old son. He had a fried doughnut in front of him before we even had drinks at our table. If you are in a hurry, ordering online from their website is an option.
Chiang Mai Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Pho Hien

28 Dec

There is nothing like a big bowl of steaming Pho to take the chill off on a winter’s day. Thankfully Wichita is blessed with a bevy a places that you can get a good authentic bowl of this delicious Vietnamese soup.

Our destination this day was  Pho Hien, located at Broadway and 17th St. On a side note, this particular stretch of Broadway is a “Murder’s Row” of great local places to check out, there is everything from a classic steak joint, to Mexican food trucks, to great Vietnamese and Asian venues.

Wonderful Pho with Garnishes

Pho-king Amazing Pho

Pho Hien has a large and open dining room with plenty of seating for busy lunch time crowds. The menu consists of Pho, Pho, and more Pho. For those of you unfamiliar, Pho is a broth based Vietnamese rice noodle soup that features a protein(typically beef of some sort), onion, and garnishes of bean sprouts, basil, lime wedges, jalapeño,  hoisin, and hot sauce. There are several different variations of meat offered with the Pho. You can choose between thinly sliced steak, brisket, tendon, tripe, as well as pork balls, and some seafood variations. Feeling a bit bold I ordered my Pho with tendon, tripe, and thinly sliced steak. Looking around I noticed that some of the bowls coming out appeared to be about the size of a 10 gallon aquarium, so I wisely went with a medium/regular bowl. Less than 5 minutes after our order was placed we had good sized bowls of steaming Pho sitting at our table.

Our service was so fast that the thinly sliced steak was still medium rare in the middle as it came to the table. The meat was tender and unlike some Pho places, had its excess fat trimmed off. Due to some nice slow braising the tendon and tripe were both tender and did not require much chewing. The Pho broth had a wonderfully rich and complex flavor. With a little Hoisin and Sriracha it was some of the best I have had in Wichita.

If you are in the mood for some authentic Pho look for further than Pho Hien. Their high quality food is Pho-king delicious (its funny if you know how to pronounce Pho)  and at $7 for a medium bowl is a solid value as well. Make sure you bring some cold hard cash though, because none of that plastic stuff is taken here.

Pho Hien Noodle Soup Co on Urbanspoon

My Tho

29 Dec

It is my opinion that some of the best food you will find in Wichita, or any other city for that matter, comes from ethnic, hole-in-the-wall places. My Tho, located at Central and Emporia, just so happens to be one of those dives that delivers good eats. There is little on the outside of My Tho that would lead you to believe that it is a restaurant, the small yellow sign doesn’t help matters as it advertises “Star Billiard”. But if you were to venture inside you would quickly learn that this is a place where one comes to dine and dine well.

My Tho: Conveniently located next to Baysinger Police Supply so you can get some Pho and then buy a taser

When we first entered on an early Friday afternoon I noticed the lack of a pool table, even though I could have sworn I have seen a pool table in the window while driving by at night. Where were they hiding this damn thing? Do they move it out every night and replace it with tables and chairs for lunch the next day? Anyway they had a good lunch crowd on our visit, but luckily there was a a deceiving amount of ample seating available. The decor was an instant classic and wins my award for “Best restaurant to utilize white trellis and fake flowers in a design scheme.”  The menu is strictly Vietnamese and consists of several types of soups and Banh Mi sandwiches. Steph decided to go with the ever reliable Pho with brisket and meatballs while I branched out and tried Bo Kho, which is a beef stew/broth with rice noodles.  We also ordered some French bread to accompany our soups. While waiting for our meal to arrive I had the pleasure of observing a mother whip out a small pair of scissors  and proceed to cut up her small child’s bowl of noodles. Wow, what a great trick to deal with those awkward rice noodles that never fail to slip off spoons and chopsticks alike causing violent eruptions of broth in every direction.

Our soups arrived within a few minutes accompanied by the usual Pho condiments including basil, lime slices, and sprouts. We were both glad we ordered the regular sized bowls because the portions were generous. Steph enjoyed her Pho although some of the brisket pieces were a bit fatty.

Delicious beef stew with bagette

My Bo Kho was very good as well. It was very similar to Pho, but with a darker beef broth and chunks of beef. Our small loaf of baguette was perfect for dipping into our respective soups. Throughout the meal both waiters were very attentive and frequently refilled out water glasses. I was particularly pleased with this since I had spiced my soup up with rooster sauce.

My Tho on Urbanspoon

Saigon – Wichita KS (Free Pho is Good Pho)

21 Dec

Once again I found myself on Broadway, this time just north of Central at the iconic Saigon. Saigon is a Vietnamese  and Asian restaurant that has been in Wichita for quite awhile. Don’t be confused with the restaurant that is just a block down the street. That place is called Little Saigon and if you aren’t paying attention you might just go there by mistake. Although I hear it has good food as well so it wouldn’t be that big of a problem.

The one constant about Saigon is their speed of service. You can go in there in the middle of the lunch time rush and you will probably only have to wait about 10 minutes for your food. Saigon has a medium sized dining room that is adorned with a large TV(pretty much inevitable in today’s restaurant world), as well as some nice ethnic decorations.

On this trip to Saigon I went with a couple of friends for some nice hot pho (Please see the Pho Hot Bistro entry if you would like the correct pronunciation of Pho as well as a detailed explanation of what exactly Pho is) . Pho is one of my favorite cold weather foods. The combination of the hot broth, meat, noodles, cilantro, fish sauce, jalapenos, and rooster sauce really lights a fire in my stomach. I ordered the sliced beef and meatball pho and was not disappointed. The broth was full flavored and while the “meatballs” were a bit different from what I was expecting they were none the less good. I would say that this pho was a bit better than Pho Hot’s pho.  Besides pho, Saigon offers a huge menu of Vietnamese as well as classic Chinese dishes.  This menu allows you to be as adventurous as you would like. If you cannot handle of deliciousness of a Vietnamese noddle bowl you can stick to some sesame chicken and rice. To top off our visit to Saigon my dear friend paid for my bowl of pho, can you believe that? For the purpose of complete disclosure I must mention that I did give my old smoker to him, so he was not really doing this out of the goodness of his heart. Although I will take what I can get.

The only part of this meal that disagreed with me was my ironic and rather insulting fortune cookie. As I recall , it read something to the effect of, “A change in your exercise routine is needed”. I kid you not. So now fortune cookies insult you? I fail to understand why this message is needed when you are eating a cookie! I think Saigon may want to filter some of these messages, because eventually the wrong person will unwrap this little jewel and there will be hell to pay.

The message of the day is: Go to Saigon for some great Pho and surly fortunes.

Saigon Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Pho Hot Bistro (Pho: It’s pronounced fu like in fudge) – Wichita KS

15 Oct

Steph and I were aimlessly driving around the other night trying to think of some local place that was still open at 9:15 on a weeknight. Unfortunately many chainfree places do not serve past 9. I had the urge to try out a new 24/7 Mexican place on West St., but our stomachs would just not tolerate the long haul to the west side on this night. We shamefully fell back on plan B which was going to be a Freddy’s steakburger, but as we pulled into the parking lot on N. Rock I spied our salvation and its name was Pho Hot Bistro. Pho Hot Bistro specializes in  Vietnamese cuisine. It has been open on Rock for perhaps a year, and until recently had a sister location called Pho Hot on Pawnee. For those of you who have never tried Vietnamese food or are still scared about venturing off of Rock Rd. to eat, this is the place for you. It is safely tucked between McAlister’s Deli and Freddy’s and has recently been remodeled. It also has ample seating, so in other words it’s not your typical dive that we are so fond of. Some may complain that it is too sanitized and Americanized, but I think it is a good concept that may encourage people to try new food.

The menu is rather accessible to those who may be a bit leery of Vietnamese food. They have some of your typical appetizers that you would find in most Asian restaurants. The spring rolls are very good, although for the price I wish you would get a bit more. The Pho, which is a Vietnamese broth served with thin sliced meat, noodles, cilantro, peanuts, and bean sprouts is just the thing to warm you on a cold day. This time we both tried new dishes. Steph tried the Pork Po Boy sandwich, which came with thin sliced sweet pork, cilantro, a mayo sauce, and some julienne carrots served on a toasted bun. The sandwich was very good although it could have used a bit more pork. But in my opinion everything could use a bit more pork. I tried the combination vermicelli noodle bowl. It was piled high with shrimp, pork, pieces of spring roll, vermicelli, and sprouts. It came with a traditional Vietnamese sauce that is a combination of sweet, salty, and tangy tastes. Both of these dishes were great and we would highly recommend them.

If you happen to walk into Pho Hot with the intention of eating a steak from Amarillo Grill you would, surprisingly be in luck. The owner bought the rights to the old Amarillo Grills that were in Wichita, so they offer their famous steak at Pho Hot. Now I have never tried this, mainly because I have common sense, but if anyone out there has let me know!

So, your homework for this weekend is to go to Pho Hot so you can tell everyone that you tried Vietnamese food. Trust me they will be really impressed with you and probably ask if you have recently stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.

Pho Hot Bistro on Urbanspoon


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