The general perception that Vietnamese cuisine is limited is understandable . Most Vietnamese restaurants feature cha giao (spring rolls), umpteen varieties of pho, and a limited choice of noodle dishes and rice dishes. Then there are the banh mi shops that offer only those delectable sandwiches and a few desserts. At least here in the U.S, there are few establishments which do justice to the variety of food described in Vietnamese cookbooks.
One that does is Pho Minh in Linden , NJ. It’s varied menu offers more choices than all the shops in Eden Center, the Vietnamese plaza in Falls Church , VA , a suburb of Washington D.C. Since “discovering” Pho Minh’s this month , my wife and I have been there three times already , twice just by ourselves and once with our extended family.
Pho Minh is larger than most Vietnamese restaurants that I’ve been to . It has a large space with seating for 60-75 diners ,with paintings of Vietnamese village life on the walls and a large aquarium with brightly colored fish near the entrance . When we went there on a quiet Sunday afternoon , it was like stepping back in time ; it reminded me of one of those generic Chinese shop suey/ chow mein palaces from forty or fifty years ago. It is a comfortable place and the staff is genuinely friendly.
The first time we went there I had the pho with beef flank , my wife had the crab asparagus soup , and we shared a plate of spring rolls and two banh mi .The pho was very good , the broth flavorsome if a little sweetish ( easily remedied with a splash of hot sauce from the condiments on the table). The spring rolls were larger than usual but not as crackly crisp as I’d have liked. Still very good though . The crab asparagus soup was outstanding : pieces of crab and slices of crisp asparagus in a cloudy broth that was delicate yet intense , if that makes sense. Excellent. The banh mi were equally good . The bread crisp on the outside yet slightly chewy inside , the sliced pork grilled to perfection and layered with bits of vegetables and shreds of cilantro. I haven’t encountered any as good outside of NYC .
When we went with our family the following weekend we ordered the crab asparagus soup again for everybody so that we would not fill up on pho (unlike the pho, it comes in smaller , cup size portions), and because we had liked it so much on our first visit. It was just as great this time around . We also had the bahn mi ( pork and beef) and spring rolls before trying out three of the special dishes.At the waitress’ suggestion , we had Stir fried sautéed Beef Cubes with onion , cucumber and tomato , Fried Salted Shrimp with onion , green chilli and scallions, and a sautéed spinach dish in a light sauce . All three dishes were superior and reminded me of why I like Vietnamese cuisine so much . The flavors were clean and light , unlike other South -East Asian cuisines where heavy gravies or coconut milk and strong spices sometimes overwhelm the natural taste of the ingredients . For dessert , we had three bubble teas ( taro, mango and almond ) and a rainbow dessert. We’d seen a picture of the flan and it appeared very appetizing but unfortunately it wasn’t available that day.
I would have liked to have tried some more dishes but the rest of the party threw in the towel. Oh well, it only means I’ll have to go there again. Some of the menu items that seem promising are the Beef Stew, the Chicken curry, the Deep Fried Flounder and the Claypot cooked Salmon . I think I’d pass on the ox tail dishes and the frogs legs . There are several other intriguing entrees on offer and you can read about them here:
This may not be the latest or most complete menu however, as I’ve also tried at least one dish that doesn’t appear here . On our third visit I had a sweet potato-shrimp appetizer which the waitress described as a pancake but which actually turned out to be fritters similar to ukoy, the beansprout-shrimp fritters that the Filipinos make. It was OK but I wouldn’t order it again ; there are other dishes on the menu that are better.
Though Pho Minh’s is a Vietnamese restaurant , it does serve other Asian dishes as well . Last Sunday , there was a pad thai special which seemed to be very popular; several of the other diners had ordered it . The menu runs to eight pages and you won’t lack variety of choice. Portions are generous and the prices are reasonable, extremely so.
Food , of course , is the biggest consideration when one eats out but at Pho Minh the dining experience is enhanced by the friendliness of the staff. There are only a few of them ( one waitress /cashier , one waitress and one server who also works in the kitchen in back) but they are all courteous and helpful and genuinely nice. On one of our visits , a diner at the neighboring table dropped and broke a plate and the waitress couldn’t have been nicer; her only concern was that the diner hadn’t been hurt .
Definitely a place to try if you are in the vicinity .
Pho Minh’s Vietnamese restaurant : 430 N. Wood Avenue , Linden , NJ 07036.