Vietnamese


Saigon Flavors is something of a local favorite, offering a good bowl of pho as well as Thai and Chinese dishes to their customers. Service is attentive and good.

larb beef.

Saigon Flavors serves a good bowl of pho.

Besides pho, we had their larb beef, some bubble tea and a rice (Com Dia) dish. We didn’t have enough of their Thai or Chinese offerings to judge those, but based largely on their Vietnamese cuisine, I’d say this could easily become a routine stop on the way to the mall.

Saigon Flavors
3200 Woodward Crossing Blvd
Buford, GA 30519
(770) 932-7705

Saigon Flavors on Urbanspoon

Samurai Chicken is a brightly colored restaurant at the corner of Oakland Road and Lawrenceville Highway, Highway 29, and at first glance it looks like another Japanese influenced eatery oriented towards inexpensive hibachi style meals. This is, of course, a concept that has been tried in Lawrenceville before, with the now-closed Totori Fresh Grill. But a careful perusal of the Samurai Chicken menu shows some interesting quirks, things that push this restaurant up into the “worth discussing” range, perhaps even to the “culinarily interesting” point.

For one, the staff is clearly aware of the Chinese heritage of various Japanese noodle dishes. Their yakisoba is also labeled Lo Mein. For another, if the magazines the staff were reading are any indication, they are fluent in Vietnamese (I asked afterwards; the staffer who spoke with me had both Korean and Vietnamese heritage).

That makes Samurai Chicken’s soups and their sandwiches yet another deal entirely, as I don’t recall a single Vietnamese restaurant in Snellville or Lawrenceville.

Samurai Sandwich or banh mi? When it looks like a duck..

So, after having had hibachi, I went ahead and ordered their grilled chicken Samurai Sandwich.

Yep, it has the good banh mi bread. it has the nice banh mi spicing. The sandwich is nicely wrapped, and large, substantially larger than other banh mi I’ve had. In retrospect, maybe more mayo than I would have preferred, but the chicken was nicely done.

I haven’t had their pho yet, but I’d be interested in trying it.

To note, there is no pork here. The proteins du jour are chicken, steak, fish, and shrimp. Outside of hibachi, sandwiches, pho, they also serve Samurai Wings (buffalo wings), spring rolls, cooked sushi. So, this is an easy place to get a fast meal. But for the Snellville/Lawrenceville foodie, the first appearance of a convenient source of pho or banh mi is of perhaps more interest, as Japanese (i.e. Sushi Avenue, Sushi Gallery, Kanpai) is not hard to come by in these parts.

Samurai Chicken
2346-A Lawrenceville Highway
Lawrenceville, GA 30044
(770) 559-0672

Samurai Chicken on Urbanspoon

From the Five Forks – Oak Road intersection, the easiest way to get to Samurai Chicken is to head down Oak Road towards Lawrenceville. It will turn into Huff Road after the railroad tracks (if you take the right turn) and Huff will intersect Lawrenceville Highway. Head north one block. Samurai Chicken will be on your right.

Otherwise, from Snellville head down Ronald Reagan towards Duluth and exit at Bethesda Church Road. Follow the road until you intersect Lawrenceville Highway. Head north to the intersection of Oakland and Highway 29.

Normally this restaurant would be a little too far down Buford Highway for my comfort, but BuHi had his fifth blogger meetup here, and that was too much temptation to pass up.

A visitor from Chattanooga, TN

The crowd, well over a dozen, had regulars and some new comers. Regulars included BuHi and Beth Robinette, @TowerATL and “IT guy”, a fellow who talks phones and tech and has been to just about every one of these meetups (one day I’ll remember his name). Newcomers included a pair from Chattanooga, the blogger Who Eats That Stuff, and @SeanEatsAtlanta. It was a good crowd and an exceptionally friendly crowd. Given the issues in my life, the timing was this event couldn’t have been better.

The food? It’s been covered before, especially in a three way meetup between Chloe, Sean of Take Thou Food and Foodie Buddha. Given my health issues, I had targeted the Vietnamese beef stew with baguette as a dish I could eat without many problems. Meat was plentiful, the broth was rich, and overall was a good choice for someone who has to limit carbs in a meal.

Vietnames beef stew. Rich flavors, baguette optional.

Other eaters enjoyed the spring rolls, and the one taste I was given of pho broth showed a lot of flavor, and was pleasingly aromatic. The bun dishes here are respected, and they have rice dishes, and those with noodles and more in a bowl. It’s easy to see why this eatery remains on the “pho short list” of a large number of bloggers.

Pho Dai Loi #2
4186 Buford Highway
Atlanta, GA 30345
(404) 633-2111

Pho Dai Loi 2 on Urbanspoon

Lee’s Pho is one of the shops in the Food Court of Assi Supermercado in Duluth, and one easily overlooked in the wash of Chinese noodle shops and bulgogi on a bun. But I had a reader note that banh mi could be found in Assi, and that was enough to make me want to try the sandwich at this shop.

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The sandwich I chose goes by the letter-number designation of “S3”, though that seemed to confuse the staff. “Pork sandwich” worked much better. On the take out menu it’s called a charbroiled pork sandwich and is decently sized when it arrived. They’re reasonably cheap, $3 each, and the sixth one is free if you order 5. To feed a family of six two sandwiches each would cost just $30.00.

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I got my sandwich late enough I wasn’t expecting excellence. The bread seemed a little sweet and was good, but wasn’t the perfection you get when the bread comes right out of the oven. The pork was cold but tasty. There was a bit of a yellow condiment (probably mustard), pork, a white vegetable and plenty of jalapeño slices. Yes, not the perfection of a banh mi straight out of the oven on Buford Highway, but a lot of balance and plenty good. And it’s close to where I live, less than 15 minutes away by car. And if I want to bring lunch to work, this is an easy stop along the way.

Lee’s Pho
1630 Pleasant Hill Road, #A1
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 931-8868

Lee's Pho on Urbanspoon

I’ve been following places to eat banh mi (see here, here, and here) and posts on banh mi for a while, but this latest from the New York Times did catch my eye. There is a new twist on this favorite, the banh mi doner kebab, half Turkish kebab, half Vietnamese sandwich.

Has anyone seen one in the greater Metro area yet?

Lee’s Bakery has been hard to find for me. I usually drive up and down Buford, stopping where the CDC has a branch office. It always seemed to me to be the end of all the ethnic stores in the area. Finally, this time, I drove past and kept going south, and I finally found Lee’s Bakery in a strip mall on the left hand side, near a Chevron. Interestingly, there was also a branch of Co’m Vietnamese Grill in the same strip mall.

I came here because Lee’s Bakery is always the store by which Quoc Huong is compared. It’s one of the best known banh mi sources in the city.  And they do have banh mi. $2.50 a sandwich to go, $3.00 on site. They also have some interesting soups, and the crab noodle soup was the one I ordered. The banh mi came first.

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Number 4, grilled pork banh mi (excellent!)

Eating that sandwich was one of two WOW banh mi moments I’ve had. The first was my first Quoc Huong sandwich. And other, later Quoc Huong sandwiches never were quite the same, never matched the freshness of the bread of the original. This sandwich just has good warm bread, warm tasty meat, good balance in its vegetables and then you get hit by a dose of heat and spice. Short version: the sandwich was excellent.

The crab noodle soup had a surprise waiting for me, even though it looks awesome.

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Number 6, crab noodle soup

It’s made using fish sauce (good links on fish sauce are here and here). I hadn’t had any dishes made from fish sauce before, that I was aware of, but you could smell it in this dish. The crab is ground fine and then made into small rounded masses about the size of the end of my big finger. You have to hunt for them through the dish. And of course, the soup has good taste. When I mentioned the scent to my waiter, he replied, “Smells kind of fishy, huh?”

Service, if I haven’t said, was extremely good.

Verdict: Considered a banh mi haven and it is surely that. Other interesting ethnic dishes abound. Highly Recommended.

4005 Buford Highway Suite C
Atlanta, GA 30345
(404) 728-1008

Lee's Bakery on Urbanspoon

One of the more intriguing chapters in Mark Kurlansky’s excellent book “Salt: A World History” was chapter four, which discusses the development of the Roman fish sauce garum, and the independent development of fish sauce in Asia, almost certainly beginning in Vietnam.

Co’m Vietnamese Grill Fusion is one of several shops found in the Shops of Dunwoody complex, just north of the intersection of Mount Vernon Highway and Chamblee-Dunwoody. It was a last minute choice that day and one that was a bit impulsive, considering I walked in about 15 minutes before they closed for lunch.

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As  I entered, they told me the grill was closed and that I could order from the appetizer menu and from their salads. After a bit of a confusing order, I ended up with an appetizer and a salad, their Carpaccio Kobe Beef and the Co’m Goi Salad with lamb.

kobe beef appetizer.

kobe beef appetizer.

Since I had managed to confuse myself as well, I thought the appetizer was the salad and kept wondering why it was so light, just meat and onions. Then the salad arrived and I had one of those “uh oh” moments and readjusted my expectations.

lamb salad

lamb salad

Both were good, though to be honest, if I had to choose one, I’d choose the appetizer. It was light, spicy, and delicious. The salad was very good, but not quite as sublime as the appetizer. To finish, the staff talked me into an “off the menu” dessert, a raspberry cake with white chocolate icing. It wasn’t hard, as I’m partial to most things colored red, including raspberries and strawberries.

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That was really good as well.  In general, service was good, the restaurant pretty, and the bartender refreshing and down to earth.

Verdict: Surprisingly good. Highly recommended.

Co’m Vietnamese Grill Fusion
5486 Chamblee Dunwoody Rd
Dunwoody, GA 30338
(770) 512-7410

Co'm Vietnamese Grill Fusion on Urbanspoon

Yesterday I picked up some food to go from Haru Ichiban, and spoke a bit to the manager about the Shoya Izakaya – Haru Ichiban connection (noted by John Kessler and Gene Lee). He said that Shoya was opened by the ex-owner of Haru, and that Haru Ichiban has retained all their staff, including their executive chef. I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with this until he mentioned that people are eating at Shoya, not liking it, and going to Haru Ichiban to complain. They tell him, “The food doesn’t taste the same.” I think this is significant enough to pass on: if you don’t like the food at Shoya, complain at Shoya.

Otherwise I’ve been trying to remember the names and locations of places I’ve eaten at over the years, and I’m drawing so many blanks on so many places. Other places of note are simply gone: Bookbinders in Philadelphia is gone. Neal’s Ice Cream in Houston (the first place I was served a super-premium ice cream) is gone. The Pizzeria Uno on Colonial Drive in Orlando (pizza salvation in Orlando) is gone. Brocato’s in Shreveport? Gone. The BBQ place southwest of Fort Worth Texas we so favored? Closed, because restaurants are no longer allowed to have sawdust floors.

Others are lost in the wash of hundreds and thousands of potential contenders. Have you ever tried to track down a deli from New York City using Urban Spoon? Midtown West alone has 230 sandwich shops. Pizza in Chicago? There are 3000 eateries in the windy city.

Some things, however, are slowly becoming clearer. The In N Out Burger we dined at, located near the Muir Forest? Found that. The pizza we had in Chicago, I’m pretty sure it’s one of the two restaurants that Urban Spoon calls Original Gino’s East. Nothing else has the graffiti, or is close enough to Northwestern University. The astounding dungeness crabs in San Francisco? The leading candidate right now is Thanh Long. The really fun ice cream shop in Oakland, California? That was Fenton’s Ice Cream Parlor. The first place I ever had a French black bottom pie? That was House of Pies, on Kirby in Houston.

Yet another boonie pepper seed from floralys sprouted, totally unexpected. This brings the germination rate of floralys seeds to 7/12. I took my largest boonie pepper plant and put it in a clay pot outside. The pepper doesn’t look that good. I give it a 50-50 chance to survive.

And reviews on the way, soon to be published: Six Feet Under, Alon’s in Dunwoody, Shoya Izakawa, Longhorns near Webb Ginn, Cold Stone Creamery and more.

Note: for those who remember Brocato’s excellent red snapper in a bag, a minister named Richard Seaton is offering a cook book based on the old Brocato’s staples.

It’s close to the Mall of Georgia, and we found the restaurant by circling the mall and noting the sign on the back side of the restaurant. It’s pretty much opposite the side of Mall of Georgia where Exit 115 (off I-85) places you. It’s probably more accessible from the north than south.

It’s a nice looking restaurant, that has a bowl of pho in neon as you approach. From some angles it looked smaller than it turned out to be. And once inside, there are a series of awards the owners won with a restaurant in Minnesota; perhaps 6-7 years of “Best of” awards in the Twin Cities.

Calling Noodle Mi a pho place would be doing an injustice to the breadth of their offerings. They have a large menu, and it isn’t just restricted to Vietnamese favorites. They also serve Thai dishes, some Japanese dishes, and some Chinese food as well.

The pho portion of the menu is handled a little differently from other restaurants. Rather than giving you several fixed choices of eye of round, beef brisket, tendon, tripe, etc, they letter the possibilities ‘a’ through ‘f’. The menu then asks you to choose three of them.

My wife and daughter tried the pho. My daughter ordered a mango smoothie. We ordered spring rolls and the Thai curry soup as well, to start. I ordered a dish whose name I’ve forgotten, but the the dish was based on banana peppers, sauteed meats, vegetables and pineapple in a brown sweet and sour sauce.

The spring rolls were good. The smoothie was good, but it tasted more of cream than mango, and it had no hint of mango color. I liked the curry soup, my wife did not. The pho was quite good. My entree, when I received it, was a huge serving, large enough to feed two people. It was good, the sweet, spicy and sour contrasts in the dish quite notable.

When we finished with our entrees, the waiters offered a small cake square, a layered cake with a coffee flavor.

Service was good. When we left the whole family pitched in to clean our table, from the grandfather to a small boy.

Verdict: Recommended. Good pho, generally good food overall, a place worth exploring.

Noodle Mi Asian Bistro
3200 Woodward Crossing Blvd
Buford, GA 30519
(678) 714-0115

Noodle Mi on Urbanspoon

I’m down to 2 boonie pepper plants as the others managed to die. I suspect, after some consideration, that surrounding peat pellets with fertilized potting soil just isn’t enough, and that you need to fertilize the plants in the pellets. I’ve been doing that (using Miracle Gro at indoor strength) and the size increase in my remaining two plants is substantial. They are in pop bottle greenhouses for now, which does wonders for their humidity:

Boonie pepper in 2 liter soda bottle greenhouse.

Boonie pepper in 2 liter soda bottle greenhouse.

And in the meantime, 12 seeds from floralys are in a Jiffy ‘box’ for now:

floralys boonie seeds in jiffy peat pellets

floralys boonie seeds in jiffy peat pellets

I’ve been collecting links about banh mi, reading them when I can.  Articles in the New York Times and in the Village Voice reference a food writer named Andrea Nguyen in part of their stories. Andrea’s blog, Viet World Kitchen, is certainly a worthwhile read. Andrea’s claim is that banh mi is not a Vietnamese-French hybrid, but rather distinctly Vietnamese. What interests me in this trio of stories is the evolution of the sandwich and the care necessary to make it. For example, in the Times article, they note that to be really good banh mi, the bread can be no more than three hours old.

But to run a banh mi shop is to race against death.

“Bread dies after three hours,” said Michael Huynh, a Vietnamese-American chef who has recently opened two new-style banh mi shops, both called Baoguette, in Manhattan.

The Vietnamese dedication to excellent, fresh baguettes is total. Using stale bread is the gravest offense a maker of banh mi can commit. In Vietnam, and in high-tech local bakeries (like Paris Bakery, in Manhattan’s Chinatown), baguettes for banh mi are baked all day long; one chain in California claims fresh baguettes every 20 minutes.

For those who might be interested in making banh mi, there is this intriguing post by the blogging couple A Good Appetite, who riffs off an Emeril recipe to make their own banh mi.

In Lilburn, a block east of the turnoff to Ronald Reagan on Pleasant Hill, there are a pair of Dominican stores, one of which calls itself a Dominican restaurant and bakery. I’m hoping to find time to visit there in the near future.

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