Tucked between a mattress store and a Jenny Craig weight loss outlet is Saigon Noodle House, arguably the best Vietnamese restaurant in the Birmingham metropolitan area. At one point there were three Vietnamese restaurants in town, but Phở Hoàng threw in the towel sometime last year, so these days it’s just Saigon Noodle House and Phở Quê Hương meeting the needs of Birmingham’s Vietnamese food seekers.
I’ve always been a little curious about how Vietnamese food is translated down south, but with so many mouthwatering barbecue shacks to explore, not to mention Frank Stitt’s various haute little eateries, seeking out a cuisine readily available in California was low on my list of priorities.
During our most recent trip to Birmingham, The Astronomer made a lunch date with his high school friends at Saigon Noodle House. I tried to persuade my dear husband to reconsider, but everyone was in the noodling mood, so off to the Noodle House we went.
To start, our group ordered a variety of fresh and fried rolls. The fresh ones were served with hoisin sauce topped with crushed peanuts, while the fried ones were served with a goopy nước chấm.
I liked how both the nem nướng and gỏi cuốn tasted freshly made and contained fried shards of Chinese egg roll wrappers through the center, a la Brodard. My only wish was that the rolls had less iceberg filler and more fresh herbs.
According to The Astronomer, the fried chả giò (not pictured) were “a typical unspectacular American specimen.” Truth be told though, we’ve only had one really outstanding chả giò stateside, and that was at a Cambodian restaurant in Boston.
For my main dish, I ordered a bowl of phở tái sách—beef noodle soup with tripe and lean steak. I wasn’t expecting a stellar showing but was totally impressed at first bite. The broth was light and clear but retained its characteristic beefy soulfulness. The thin slices of onions and scallions, along with the wilted cilantro sprigs, perfumed the entire bowl. Saigon Noodle House makes a solid phở.
The garnishes served with the phở included bean sprouts, Thai basil, sliced jalapenos, and lime wedges.
The Astronomer’s bánh mì thịt nướng was a delight on all fronts, minus the weakly pickled daikon and carrots. The baguette was perfectly crisp with the right amount of heft, while the meat was well marinated and plentiful.
Prior to sitting down for a Vietnamese meal in Birmingham, I feared that the fare would be watered down for the local palate. I realized that I had nothing to fear following my thoroughly authentic lunch at Saigon Noodle House. It fills my little Vietnamese-American heart with joy knowing that the good folks in Alabama have access to the real deal. Slurp up!
Saigon Noodle House
4606 U.S. 280
Birmingham, AL 35242