Friday, November 27, 2009
vietnamese/pho: i strongly recommend YUE YUAN PHO
YUE YUAN PHO
or VIETNAMESE GARDEN PHO
No. 12, Lane 155, Dun Hua N. Road
MRT: Nanjing East Road or Zhongshan Jr. High School
website: Facebook page
hours: 11:30 AM-3 PM: 5:30 PM -9 PM; weekends 11:30 AM - 9 PM
Kid friendliness: clean and spacious, though fills up quickly during lunch/dinner time;
Visit reviewed: 11/10/2009
If you've never had Vietnamese food in Taipei before, get ready to try the real deal. Even before I stepped foot into the restaurant, I was drooling over photos of Yue Yuan Pho's banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches and pho soups, after reader Richard kindly recommended the new restaurant with "a yellow sign that says "Pho." (Thanks Richard!)
I quickly made plans with my friend S to give it a try and she said it was near Chang Chun Road. Good thing because otherwise, I would have ended up on Dun Hua S. Road instead of Dun Hua N. Road when I confused the two when telling the taxi driver the address in Chinese. I know, I'm retarded, but I still confuse the two in my head sometimes because I'm thinking of the "N" sound for "North" = "Nan" when in fact "North" is "Bei" phonetically.
Anyways, once you end up on the lane populated with restaurants, you can quickly spot the bright yellow sign. At 11:30AM, we didn't have to make reservations, but the restaurant quickly became full after 12noon.
The simple menu is on a sheet of white paper in English and in Chinese. It's funny that instead of using the word "pho", it's instead titled "beef noodle soup."
The space is sleek and clean, with lots of light from the storefront windows and a long mirror along the top of one wall that makes the space feel slightly bigger.
A bottle of Sriracha and Hoisin sauce are set on every table- believe it or not, I think this is my first time seeing Sriracha in Taipei. I don't know why, but it makes me excited- maybe because it reminds me of LA.
If you've never heard of Sriracha, here is a cool NY Times article about its not-Thai, not-Vietnamese, but American origins.
We were set on trying the beef pho, a dry noodle and a sandwich. But we got talked into ordering the "Luna Shrimp" by the waiter with a sense of humor, saying that it was what he ate everyday. I wasn't clear from the name that it was Thai style fried shrimp cakes, but after ordering it, he said it was enough food and we shouldn't order the sandwich.
First came the plate of basil and bean sprouts and shortly after, a steaming hot small bowl of rare steak pho. (NT$140) The broth had a distinctive beef flavor, slightly sweet and spiced by onions and star anise. It really stood out from other broths I've had in Taipei. The beef quickly cooks after a few swishes inside the soup.
When I asked the waiter which of the rice vermicellis we should try, he suggested the BBQ pork over vermicelli with egg rolls (NT$140+30). You can also get bbq pork chop, chicken or beef with rice.
The large slices of grilled pork were tender and carmelized, like a Vietnamese take on the more familiar char siu. Buried underneath the pork were plain rice noodles on a bed of bean sprouts, where you could pour the house made dressing (or "nuoc cham") and make a sort of cold noodle salad.
Next came the fat slices of the shrimp moon cakes, or called Luna Shrimp on the menu here (NT$180). Sure they were crispy, hot and thick with mashed shrimp, but they weren't what my friend and I came here to eat. We ate a few and offered a few to the older couple sitting at table next to us. Out of pity (and probably curiosity), they took a few.
Though we were pretty full, I still wanted to try the sandwiches. After all, that was a rare find in Taipei. We reasoned with ourselves and decided we'd just sample it, and if we couldn't finish, we'd take it home. After ordering and waiting a few minutes, the BBQ chicken with pickled vegetables(NT$120) on french bread came.
The succulent, hot, grilled chicken thigh, warm crusty french baguette, tangy julienned pickled carrots and radishes, and a slightly sweet mayo-ish sauce they used to "glue" it all together. It is perfection. And believe it or not, it's hard to find a good sandwich in Taipei, much less a good Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. I'm drooling as I write this and it's not even lunch time.
The food is so good, I must go again the following week with a gaggle of friends and order all the same things, but also try the spicy green curry with french baguette and the classic ham, meat loaf, liver paste with pickled vegetables banh mi sandwich (NT$120), which are both also amazing. Although this time, we have trouble getting service when the initial order of food is not enough (they are packed to the brim and running around like crazy. It seems only a few of the waiters are trained to take orders, some of the others are just delivering plates/cleaning up) and one sandwich order gets dropped for 20 minutes until we repeatedly ask for it.
It's pretty bold of a place to declare itself the best, as Yue Yuan Pho does on its Facebook page (or maybe a superfan set it up for them), but in this case, it is earned. It even kicks the butt of my former favorite local Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Hoa. The word of mouth is quickly spreading for this six month old restaurant in the good Vietnamese food deprived city of Taipei.
A second shop is already set to open this week or next, in the killer location between the Dun Hua Diner and Carnegies.
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