Per a couple of posters' suggestions, last night, VF and I went to Huong, the Viet place on Cumberland Ave. in Portland. It took several attempts, since we finally figured out (after driving past many times, right at dinnertime, to see lights out and chairs up on tables) that the place closes at 6 PM. I think they must do great business at lunchtime. It's a tiny joint, kitty-corner to the Public Market, with low ceilings and about five tables. A couple of (presumably) the proprietress's kids were playing peekaboo with some of the customers. There was a Sesame Street video playing on the TV overhead.
On going in, we were welcomed by the wonderful fragrance of spices (I think star anise is one) that belong in good pho broth. We also noticed that there was an enormous assortment of condiments on every table: spicy sate sauce, shrimp paste, hoisin, sambal oelek, sriracha, soy, fish sauce. A good sign. Nothing on the menu, full of the usual Vietnamese offerings, was more than six dollars. Most of the options are noodle soups, with about seven kinds of pho and a bunch of chicken-pork-or seafood choices, along with either pork or shrimp salad rolls (as opposed to the lame steamed chicken ones that the sadly compromised Thai places around here all sell), bun xiao (rice vermicelli and salad, I believe), and pan-fried noodles.
There were no vegetarian options at all, although VF settled for some "vegetable fried rice," broken rice that was extra-dark with soy sauce (a good sign for him, assuming that the use of soy means omission of fish). I got a pork & seafood noodle soup that had both egg and rice noodles in a chicken-y broth. Most of the seafood was in the form of fish balls, although there were a couple of sweet, perfectly cooked (i.e, not rubbery) fully-deveined (not a given!) shrimp as well, all in all, an unbelievable value for $4.95. Next time, I'll try the pho.
The couple sitting nearby was also enjoying a couple of enormous bowls of rice noodle soup, and one of them actually asked to take home the remaining broth. I've never seen anyone do that, but if I hadn't finished all of mine, I would have thought about it. I've only been to a couple of the Baxter St. places in NYC, but, in my recollection, this place beats them all. Certainly for sheer attention paid to the quality of the food, it completely flattens them.
Go there. This is beautiful food.
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