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Most authentic Vietnamese in Denver?

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  • eade Aug 29, 2007 01:35 PM

Last year a friend who lives in Brooklyn told me that the best Vietnamese she has ever had is in Denver.

My friend has lived and travelled in Asia, including Vietnam, so I really trust her judgment in this area.

I will be visiting Denver soon from NYC and I am eager to find this restaurant.

She was not sure exactly where it was, and I do not recall clearly exactly where she thought it might be, but I think she said a street named "Federal" and mentioned an inclined road where more than one Vietnamese place is located. She also said that it was nothing fancy, it was similar to the hole in the walls we see here in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

I am looking for the most authentic Vietnamese restaurant in Denver. I'm not interested in American-Vietnamese or Chinese-Vietnamese food. If anyone could direct me to the restaurant that my friend remembered or has a nomination of their own for most authentic in Denver, it would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. Unfortunately for your search, saying there is more than one Vietnamese place on Federal is quite an understatement. It's hard to throw a rock on Federal without hitting one. And that rock will probably richochet and hit a Mexican restaurant. I say that in a good way. The description you list sounds like the Asian Plaza at Federal and Alameda. The best Vietnamese choice there is Saigon Bowl. I prefer Da Lat at 940 South Federal. They have an expansive menu with many traditional dishes you don't see often.

    6 Replies
    1. re: jtc

      jtc is right there are many Vietnamese and Asian places on Federal. Where Alameda intersects with Federal is kind of on top of a hill so maybe that is what she remembers.

      "Authentic" is kind of a loaded term but one of the better known Vietnamese places is New Saigon if that helps (on Federal and kind of on top of a small hill):

      http://www.newsaigon.com/

      1. re: ColoradoFun

        Thanks so much for the recommendations. We tried both Da Lat and New Saigon.

        Da Lat was the winner. We went there twice, and both times my partner ordered what he always orders at Vietnamese restaurants -- "combination beef pho" (this is the variety with as many variaties of beef cuts as they have -- tendon, stomach, brisket etc.). It was not on the menu at Da Lat but they told us they could make it. We have been to many Vietnamese places in our home town, NYC, and he thought that Da Lat's pho was as good as our favorite place here, which is in Flushing, Queens. I had a couple dishes that were also excellent. The menu is also interesting, and the waiters were very helpful in letting us know which dishes they like (but not pointing us to the expensive dishes, a technique we are familiar with here).

        The second time we were there, it was about 4pm, and we noticed that the only other customers there were speaking Japanese. It turns out they were sushi chefs from Sushi Den. The waiter told us that the chefs ate there often and always ordered the same noodle dish. We figured it should be an exceptional bowl of noodles if the Sushi Den chefs came over regularly for it.

        At New Saigon, a simple beef pho with cuts of beef that Americans would recognize was on the menu, but when we asked for a bowl of combination beef pho, the waiter (who was also very nice) told us that they did not have the ingredients there to make it. He suggested we go to a specialty pho place and specifically recommended Pho Van, which is up a bit north on the same side of Federal as New Saigon.

        At New Saigon, there were two people sitting next to us. One asked his companion "What is to-FU?" She explained and he responded, "Ok, then I'm not eating that."

        The menu at New Saigon has nothing on the menu that could perhaps offend the sensibilities of its clientele other than maybe frog legs (and tofu?), and does not have the breakdown of several regional dishes that can be found at Da Lat.

        The food was ok, but if we had more time in Denver, we would not have returned to New Saigon. We would have gone back to Da Lat and tried a dish the waiter there had recommended and of course the noodle dish that the Sushi Den group orders, and also the pho at Pho Van and maybe some of the other pho specialty places (. . . any recommendations for where to find good combination beef pho would be appreciated for future reference. . . ).

        1. re: eade

          Pho 79 and Pho Duy are my fav pho joints.

          1. re: eade

            I'm in total agreement with Da Lat & New Saigon being the 2 places you chose to try out - those would be my 2 choices for Vietnamese in Denver. However, I do need to "defend" New Saigon. If "authentic" = offending sensibilities, then you'd have to order off of the section of the menu that doesn't have English translations for the dishes. Dishes on this part of the menu (e.g. Bun RIeu Oc, Bun Bo Hue) have snails, pork blood, crab roe, etc. I haven't tried or know what all the dishes are but recognized some of them from my time in Vietnam - seems to be very regional too.

            I think both Da Lat & New Saigon are great. I just wanted to give New Saigon it's fair shake. Yes, it might be a little "safer" for Vietnames/Asian food newbies but still very good nonetheless in my opinion.

          2. re: ColoradoFun

            i agree, the term "authentic" is getting kind of played out as well. def a loaded term. i mean a lot of us arent going to know if the food is actually what they would serve in vietnam, or if its been toned down or whatever for americans. but if its good then who cares. the gauge seems to be "well theres asian people in there eating so it must be authentic...."

          3. re: jtc

            I think the saying is you can't swing a dead cat with out hitting any of those places, but I like the richochet comment!

          4. Having traveled extensively in SE Asia (including 3 months in Vietnam) I would also recommend Da Lat, New Saigon and both Pho Duy locations (Federal Blvd as well as Broomfield) as the best Denver has to offer.

            19 Replies
            1. re: Strangewine

              u like pho duy better than pho 95? we have been getting pho 95 regularly and love their pho and the combo bun bowl with the grilled meats. have not tried pho duy yet but it is next to one of my favorite chinese places, lao wang noodle house. best cold noodles ever. every time we want pho we say "we should try pho duy" and every time we end up getting pho 95.

              1. re: cookinitup

                cookinitup: I really like both Pho Duy locations. I love the fact that with all of the great options for food along Federal, Lao Wang, J's Noodles and Pho Duy are all side by side. Easily my favorite Chinese noodles, Thai and Vietnamese all in a row.

                Though after reading your post, I'll be heading over to Pho 95 for a change!

                1. re: Strangewine

                  ya we eat all up and down federal. great hispanic options too. i get fresh made tortillas at federal and evens that are usually still warm when u buy them. if u go to pho 95 try that combo bun bowl too. the grilled pork and shrimp with a hint of fish sauce is sssooo good. ok now i want some pho. especially on a cold, drizzly day like this!

                  1. re: cookinitup

                    Agreed. Bun Dac Biet is one of my 'go-to' meals anytime I'm thinking of Vietnamese food. I would eat Bun anytime day or night when I would stumble across it when I was staying in Hanoi... yum!

                    1. re: Strangewine

                      love the bun bowl.

                      1. re: cookinitup

                        Visited Pho 95 today for lunch. It was busy and the staff was very friendly. Overall, I thought it was really good. I would put them on a par with Pho Duy, New Saigon and Da Lat. I will say that they seemed a little less expensive and the portions were a little bigger than average for the Denver Vietnamese scene. We had Pho and a Bun Dac Biet - both were good. The egg rolls weren't as good as Pho Duy but that was the only weakness. The cafe sua da was very nice. I'll be adding them to my list for sure - thanks for the recommendation.

                        1. re: Strangewine

                          no problem. try the fresh spring rolls with the shrimp and pork. they come with a great peanut dipping sauce. u know what we do when we get takeout? we order a large #7 and an extra side of broth, which is like 2 bucks or so. that way we end up with two good sized bowls each so we have enough for the next night. four bowls of pho for around 11 bucks. cant beat that! i really like their broth. glad u enjoyed them.

                    2. re: cookinitup

                      In Denver for a few days and have already hit Lao Wang for xiao long bao and dan dan noodles, and will be making time for tacos/tamales and Vietnamese. Thought I would throw myself on the expertise/familiarity of folks here to see if I can track down a dish that I had and loved in Hanoi a few years ago and have never seen anywhere in the US.

                      It's a noodle soup - rice vermicelli, grilled pork skewers AND grilled pork meatballs, and tons of herbs. The ingredients make me think of bun cha, but it's definitely a hot soup instead of a cold salad. I dream of those grilled meatballs still...

                      Can anyone steer me toward the dish of my dreams in Denver?

                      1. re: Kelly

                        u dont remember the name of the dish i assume? hhhmmmm....the menu at pho 95 has a short description of each item so maybe u can find it there...

                        1. re: cookinitup

                          Yes, it's precisely the fact that I *don't* remember the name of the dish that is causing the problem. :o) Will check out pho 95.

                        2. re: Kelly

                          What's the broth like? I've had pho with various meats, including skewers and meatballs - is it possible it's just a variety of pho , with pork skewers and meatballs? Or is the broth different from pho?

                          1. re: Kelly

                            Definitely not pho... I agree, it sounds like the bun cha that's everywhere in Hanoi. I did have some buns up north that varied from the 'cold salad' standard and were more as you described. While I enjoyed Pho 95, I'd say that Pho Duy has far superior bun dishes - I would recommend the bun dach biet to get you close to what you're looking for.

                            1. re: Strangewine

                              It's called Hu Tieu Nam Vang. Clear rice noodle soup and it comes with shrimp, slices of pork and meatballs. I just visited Vietnam and took a cooking class there. Now I can tell the difference with Pho. Pho is made3 different ways in CO at the restaurants; traditional, chicken broth from a can and powder mixture.. Traditionally, it is cooked from beef bones for hours. This is the expensive way of cooking pho. In CO especially at Pho 95 and Pho Duy their broth is mostly chicken stock and the powder mixture you see at Asian stores. The powder mixture is made with alot of MSG, this is why after eating Pho 95 & Pho Duy you are always so thirsty and sleepy. A big pot of hot water add in a couple of tabelspoons of powder mixture gets you cheap pho.

                              1. re: beththomas

                                i havent noticed "so thirsty and sleepy" after eating pho 95. hmm.

                                1. re: beththomas

                                  Having spent quite a bit of time in Vietnam (and eaten a wide variety of Pho) I'd have to agree with cookinitup. I've never felt 'thirsty and sleepy' after eating at Pho Duy. Where did you get your information on how Pho 95 and Pho Duy make their Pho? I've inspected the kitchen at Pho Duy in Broomfield and can assure you that they are cooking from scratch. I can't speak for the Pho Duy on Federal or Pho 95 but I will say that all three locations offer Pho that is every bit as good as what is available throughout Vietnam.

                                  1. re: Strangewine

                                    ya and pho 95's broth has a good, hearty beef flavor which makes me think they are cooking it from beef bones. i have a box of "pho bullion cubes" that are basically spices, msg and salt, and on their own they are pretty bland, but when i add them to some real beef stock, it tastes like pho. and pho 95 doesnt taste like chicken stock.

                                2. re: Strangewine

                                  A craving for xiao long bao sent us back to Lao Wang today at lunch, but they'd run out of food - so we hopped two doors down to Pho Duy. Are their bun dishes a "secret handshake/knowing wink/off the menu and by special request" thing? Because there was nothing on the menu we got but pho (and a couple of items like goi cuon)...

                                  I got the pho with rare beef, brisket and tendon, and thought it was okay. I was a little disappointed because the plate of herbs they brought had only bean sprouts, lime and basil - I had to ask for sawtooth and rau ram.

                                  Will be looking forward to a Pho 95 comparison!

                                  1. re: Kelly

                                    hhmmm never had pho duy, but the bun dac biet at pho 95 is awesome. (not a secret handshake thing) and they give u sawtooth with ur pho but only a couple sprigs so u might have to ask for extra.

                                    1. re: Kelly

                                      I've had bun dac biet at both Pho Duy and Pho 95 without issue. 'dac biet' simply means house special and is usually a combination of all of the meats and toppings available on their other bun dishes. I did think that Pho Duy's bun dac biet was nicer than Pho 95s but that's just my take. Enjoy!