Perhaps if was the spring like weather that drove the request, a light and refreshing dinner of Bun Kho and fruit smoothies, an almost perfect choice when the weather is warm. Or possibly three children, worn and dehydrated from a day of running wild, knew that nothing refuels a depleted sodium supply like Vietnamese fish sauce, but the request was for a trip to Argyle Street. Parents happily agreed, and the decision was made to try a new place, Nha Hang Viet Nam, on the east end of Argyle, recently reviewed on Tasting Table.
Nha Hong sits in a tiny space on the corner of Argyle at Kenmore. First impressions, it's true, can mean everything, but not always. Noah's first notes, "decorated too much, music is bad, restrooms are horrible", quickly gave way to the words "delicious and awesome". The girls were a bit kinder, Mary thought "the ambiance is fantastic, colorful and small" and Kate concurred, "very colorful".
While the restaurant may be small, the menu is huge, a bit overwhelming for young children (and occasionally their mothers). While our standard order in Vietnamese restaurants is Pho Noodle Soup the warm weather, and a quest to try something new, necessitated a full review of the menu. We started with Goi Cuon Tom, a shrimp spring roll (#17), Cha Gio Chay, a vegetarian egg roll (#21), Banh Hoi Ho Nuong Tom, a woven rice cake (#27) and, at the request of Noah's father, Canh Ga Sot Me, the garlic chicken wings reviewed on the Tasting Table (#30). Everything was good but the standout, for the Taste Buds, was the woven rice cake, which was really a "make your own spring roll" spread of deliciousness. Three components: one very large platter piled high with grilled shrimp, beef, lettuce, mint, rice vermicelli; one plate of the hard and very thin spring roll wrappers; and two tubs of warm water (non aesthetically pleasing to go containers used for water happily overlooked by mothers enthusiastically dipping wrappers for children), all combined to create a very interactive and tasty treat for the Taste Buds. The beauty is this, they can put whatever they want inside their spring roll; Mary opted for noodles, mint and shrimp as Noah filled his with everything available. A picky eater could dive in with noodles only and still get the experience of trying something new, genius!
Noah and his father moved on to the now popular Bahn Mi Vietnamese "sub" sandwich, ordering Banh Mi Bo Nuong, a grilled marinated beef sub with cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, sour carrots, radishes and green onion (#32). Noah described his sandwich as delicious but his father thought there was too much bread and not enough meat and veggies. Creatively he borrowed from other plates, including scooping up the lettuce leaf covered with garlic sauce from the chicken wings, to enhance his sandwich. (Note: three Bahn Mi shops on or near Broadway in Lakeview now open).
The Buds shared three entrees: Co'm Chien Bo, beef fried rice (#129), Mi Xao Tom, crispy egg noodles with shrimp and vegetables (#136), and Hu Tieu Xao Chay, large pan fried rice noodles with tofu and vegetables (#153). All three choices are very easy introductions to Vietnamese food: nothing spicy (although easily doctored by sharing parents prone to splashing Nuac Chom, spicy fish sauce, over their personal plate), nothing terribly scary looking and all available interchangeably with beef, chicken, tofu and shrimp, for individual preferences. The girls really enjoyed the crispy noodles although Kate felt that the broccoli was "overcooked" which I will amend to being slightly overcooked and fully doused in a very tasty and light sauce. The only real miss here was the Co'm Vit Mam Gung, a steamed rice dish with duck and a ginger fish sauce (#116), ordered by a dad who wished he had stuck with his regular Pho, finding this bland, tough and boring.
Two strawberry smoothies, divided into four cups (including one for a younger sister soon to be Taste Bud), were enough to share, and slurped away with vigor. Mary found them "creamy, fresh and good" and can't wait to go back and try watermelon. The total, for this copious amount of food, feeding four adults and four children, was $95, a good value even considering the slight on the sandwich meat (although we had a dad who would have liked to see more of the garlic chicken wings). Adults please note Nha Hang is BYOB and there is a liquor store in the block to the west.
Hoping to end our Argyle evening with a stop at an Asian bakery, we walked west towards Broadway, finding that at 8:00 pm all bakeries had closed. Thankfully finding ice cream at Thai Pastry, just south of Argyle on Broadway, appeases even the most disappointed Bud: red bean, mango, cotton candy, lychee; all given a thumbs up by the most discerning ice cream eaters, or, more accurately, children who really love all kinds of ice cream, even without Vietnamese fish sauce.