It is easy to overlook Vietnam Grille in the Starmount neighborhood along South Boulevard because of the unattractive signage and the building's past life as a Jersey Mike's. The exterior does nothing to draw in your eye and the surroundings are what you would expect from Little Juarez rather than Little Saigon. But the parking lot is always busy and I've learned to trust the context clues when trying out new restaurants.
The interior is simple with photos of littoral and coastal Vietnam adorning the walls and a couple small tables throughout the dining room. When eating Vietnamese food, I tend to stick with the pho because the gigantic bowls of broth and fixings are like a healing elixir. A week ago I caught some weaponized strain of the common cold and thought my brains were going to pour out of my head. Big Mama's chicken soup wasn't going to cut it this time around. I needed that pho!
As is the norm, my broth came accompanied with a plate of fresh jalapeno slices, a sprig or two of sweet Thai basil, two handfuls of sprouts, and a couple lime wedges. The colors of the garnishes are bright and enticing. I like how they all offer a different texture to the dish that changes the longer they steep in the steaming soup.
The broth is the lifeblood of great pho and most comes from a slow-simmering stock draw from the marrow of an oxtail along with various slices and bits of chopped vegetables and herbs. I liked how Vietnam Grille used filament-thin slices of onion and tender scallions in the stock of my chicken noodle soup. With all the vegetables in front of you and steam wafting the smell against your face, you can't help but be certain pho is packed with nutrients and tasty goodness.
Everyone has a different ritual for preparing their pho. Some haphazard. Some rigid. I tend to meet somewhere in the middle. Add a little garnish, stir, add a little more, stir, rinse, repeat, and then squeeze every last drop of the lime juice into my soup.
Next comes the table side accoutrements like Sriracha chili, hoisin sauce, or soy sauce. I stick to a splat of chili paste and swirl of hoisin for my pho and was pleasantly surprised to see Vietnam Grille kept a housemade Chili Garlic sauce in a squeeze bottle at each table. I'm a diehard Sriracha fan and the housemade sauce at Vietnam Grille one-upped my beloved Red Rooster. Give it a whirl with the chop sticks and start slurping away. Overall the flavor was great and authentic just like the broke-ass marquee claimed.
My only qualm was the chicken in my noodle soup. I prefer thinly-sliced layers of chicken in my soup. They stay so tender and so soft you hardly chew it before swallowing. Vietnam Grille seemed to take a chunkier approach to their chicken- like hunks were shredded off with a fork and tossed in the broth. It still tasted like delicious and enriching chicken pho but I just realize I prefer mine prepared a little differently.
It may not look like much but the flavors served inside Vietnam Grille were worth my money. I'll probably give them another go in the future.
Let us know in the comments section if you've got a favorite Vietnamese spot around town.