Saigon Kitchen, 9200 N. Lamar, 512-837-9910.
This modest-looking restaurant’s bracing hot-and-sour soup was filled with shrimp, pineapple, celery, tomato, okra, noodles, and anise. Vermicelli with rice-paper pancakes that were more like omelettes came with grilled pork, fish sauce, and a platter frilly lettuce, cilantro, cucumbers, and mint. Tender frogs’ legs in a fresh tempura like batter were accompanied by a dipping sauce of lemon juice, black pepper, and salt.
La Pagode, 4302 Bryan, 214-821-4542.
The food is less daringly spiced and is beautifully presented. A birdnest noodle basket spilled over with grilled shrimp carrots, beef, chicken, and broccoli. An entrée of charbroiled shrimp and scallops was a bouquet of crustaceans around gleaming white vermicelli.
Mai, 4812 Bryan, 214-826-9887.
Great people-watching is to be had at this tiny mom-and-pop place, which seems to be the restaurant of the moment. But the food lacks definition. Shrimp sautéed in salty fish sauce and scallions is a good choice.
Mekong Restaurant, 4301 Bryan, 214-824-6200.
Mekong’s strong points are appetizers and salad dressings. A basket of crispy noodles arrived, like tostadas, before our meal. Spring rolls, generously stuffed with vermicelli, pork, bean sprouts, and stems of cilantro, won us away from the habit-forming noodles. A shrimp salad, loaded with onions, cabbage, cilantro, cucumbers, and crunchy noodles, was liberally sprinkled with chopped peanuts and swathed in a subtle sweet-hot dressing.
Van Loc Restaurant, 3010 Milam, 713-528-6441.
We ordered a Vietnamese pizza, which turned out to be another version of the ever-present crêpe or pancake. Soups here, as at all the Vietnamese eateries, are a deal—one order is enough for four people.
Vietnam Kitchen, 2929-C Milam, 713-520-7106. See story for dishes.
Vietnam Restaurant, 3215 Main, 713-326-0917.
Crunchy grilled pork on skewers was accompanied by lettuce, citronella, and bean sprouts for wrapping into packages. Ginger chicken was punctuated by big slivers of ginger; brilliant-red barbecued chicken was juicy but would have benefited from dipping sauce. The dessert of red beans with green strings of coconut jelly in coconut milk was surprisingly good.
Pho Tau Bay, 720 Ninth, 409-983-9634.
This spot is in a small shopping center in a Vietnamese neighborhood with an oriental grocery next door. Although the restaurant’s décor and service are unremarkable, a group can sample authentic fare here inexpensively at lunch. Savor bits of crispy fried pork on a bed of vermicelli, carrot and parsley were exceptional, served with an attractive plate of bean sprouts, Serrano peppers, and fresh anise.
Chere Saignon, 4263 N.W. Loop 410, Suite 109, 512-366-9578.
A highlight is the gloriously tasty crab claws supreme. Squid stuffed with ground pork was a tad rubbery but spunkily peppered.
Saigon Garden, 5055 Randolph Boulevard, 512-654-8858.
The décor may be slightly off-putting, but a good cross section of Vietnamese selections is offered here. Though the menu is brief, you won’t be shortchanged on freshness (an order of spring rolls was good) or on quality.
Vietnam Restaurant, 3244 Broadway, 512-822-746.
A casual atmosphere and gigantic servings are good reason for dining here. The food is cautiously spiced, almost sedate. Crab claws are miniature version—but the plate is piled high with the morsels. Smoky and tender grilled pork ribs were the combination special of the day, served with not-so-special spicy shrimp in a bland tomato sauce.