Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Vietnamese near downtown (Huynh, Thien An)

Downtown Vietnamese - not dead yet

For several years, I thought we were losing our Vietnamese community near downtown. Midtown began to lose most of its Vietnamese malls, shops, and restaurants. Non-Vietnamese developments moved in. It looked like an exodus to Bellaire.

I may have been wrong.

Huynh Restaurant (912 St. Emanuel) and Thien An (2905 Travis) and have opened attractive new locations in the old Chinatown (Huynh) and Midtown (Thien An).

Their dishes are among the best in Houston.


My friends Larry and Halcyon brought me to Huynh for lunch. They know the proprietor. So they get special treatment. But then, every customer seems to get special treatment at Huynh.

Larry ordered some soft pork (?) rolls. I didn't focus on the meat because I was so enthralled with the wrappers. These are thick rice wrappers that remind me of some dim sum pasta much more than the ordinary rice paper. They are made in the kitchen. Their texture is thick, toothsome, and delightfully slimy. Their flavor is fresh and ricey.

Cha giao is often just an ordinary egg roll. But at Huynh, the exterior has a completely different, crunchy texture. Somehow these seem healthier than ordinary egg rolls, but I'm probalby just kidding myself.

Huynh's bún bò Huế is outstanding. Yes it has clotted pig's blood. (The proprietor delicately called it "blood tofu.") Yes it has pig's feet. The family who runs Huynh are recent immigrants from Hue, which makese sense when you try this authentic dish.

I love Huynh's minimal modern decor. This is an inexpensive Vietnamese place that looks and feels much more upscale than it costs.

Thien An

Thien An began as a divey sandwich shop, well known for its banh mi sandwiches. It recently moved to a bigger space Midtown. And the menu has much more than sandwiches.

I used the promise of Banh Mi to coax my friend Patrick to join me. He ordered a pork banh mi. It looked looked like a steal at $2.50.

I asked him to describe it. "It's good," he said. "Care to add anything else?" I asked. "Nope."

As you might guess, Patrick is no foodie. But he likes Banh Mi.

A few months ago, Justin commented on this site that Thien An's bún bò Huế is the best in Houston. I might have to agree. The broth might not be quite as complex as at Pho Danh in the Hong Kong Mall. But the meat in this soup has a distinct, spicy flavor that raises it above ordinary meat hanging out in broth. The soup that benefitted from a wide array of condiments.

For days, I have had a spring in my step. Now I know that great Vietnamese food is back inside the Loop -- or maybe it never left.


Rubiao said...

I ate at Huynh few weeks ago and had those dumplings. I'd never had anything like them, so pillowy. At first I didn't know what to think, but I definitely wanted more. I have been trying to go back for breakfast ever since, but its not open on Sunday. Have you ever tried that Chinese place next door? I'd love to know about a good Chinese place over there.

anonymouseater said...

@Rubiao - There is a Chinese restaurant at the other end of the same strip mall. I believe it is called Hung Kee. Iused to go there several times a year from about 1995 - 2005.

The main room of the restaurant is a giant buffet. I never liked the buffet. But the restaurant has menu service in a small side room. The menu items are fairly good. Sadly, few customers choose the menu, which says a lot about American consumers of Chinese food.

Anonymous said...

Having been married to a girl from Hue before, I know a little about bun bo hue. My favorite version in Houston is at Kim Chau restaurant on Long Point near Silber. Would love to hear your take on it.

Jodie Eisenhardt said...

mmmmm ... I can't wait to go! Thanks so much for all of the info and gorgeous photos! :)

Grant said...

Went to Huynh with my wife for lunch today. First time there and it was great and pretty busy (a good sign). We ordered the soft spring pork rolls, bún bò Huế and mi hoac hu tieu xao ga (noodles with mixed seafood and vegetables). The soft spring rolls were a treat and we really liked the soft rice noodle wrapping. The bún bò Huế was as good as they were reviewed. The waitress was very friendly and suggested we get the noodle dish 'crispy' style, her favorite style. The gravy for the sauce was yummy and the seafood portions were fairly generous. The noodles were pan seared enough to be just a little bit crispy on the top of the dish. Definitely will be going back for more.

Anonymous said...

Is Huyhn owned by the same folks that ran Pho Huynh in Midtown? That was my favorite of the Midtown Vietnamese joints, and I was sad when it closed a couple of years ago.

Epicurus said...

Thien An is bad@ss. I love that place. But, and I admit this lowers my Intrepid score on the Foodie meter, clotted blood ain't for me.

Anonymous said...

yes, Huynh is owned by the same people who ran Pho Huynh. The menu is exactly the same. I second the recommendation for Kim Chau on Long Point. People will come and buy pots of their Bun Bo Hue to go.

hobbas said...

Saw your post and ate at Huynh. It was seriously awesome. Really pleasant atmosphere and exceptional service. The food was really really great. All of the flavors were well done down to the details and all of the ingredients were good quality. The first new place I have eaten in a while that I am really excited to go back to. Wanted good vietnamese and a clean quiet restaraunt for a date and Huynh was exactly that.

mark said...

I've been to Huynh's a few times ....not nearly enough.
The vietnamese eggrolls....I WILL kill for..simply the best.
I had the soft, slimy egg rolls also....forgot the name sorry ....I'm from Pasadena lol.....the sauce for those is wonderful......
I really enjoy their atmosphere, quiet, modern decore.
The sister are the greatest, and the little helper is precious.

Thank you girls, for being so gracious.
mark choate