Vietnamese food for beginners? (Tucson)
I love to try new foods, but I can't say I've had the chance to try Vietnamese food. I love Thai food, so I've been stuck on that lately. I tend to like noodle-y dishes or anything with chicken, but what are some good Vietnamese places in Tucson? I pass Miss Saigon nearly every day and always want to go in, but I wouldn't know what to order. I don't eat red meat, and I try to avoid anything fried. I don't know much about the typical Vietnamese dishes (I've heard of Pho but don't really know what it is...I know, I'm a bad chowhound!), so if anyone can help me out with what are the "standards" and then recommend some in the Tucson area, I would really appreciate it! TIA!
My two favorite Vietnamese places in town are Pho 88 and Hao Long Bay. Pho 88 is a good pho house, and they serve the usual "other" dishes like cold noodles or rice with a variety of toppings. Hao Long Bay is a bit more upscale, and while they offer soups, they are more focused on plated dishes. I especially recommend their steamed fish dishes.
Like otehr folks have said, Vietnamese spring rolls are fantastic, especially if you're not disturbed by the vaguely translucent rice paper wrapping!
For non-beef eaters, Pho is out (due to the broth). However, I would recommend the basic noodle dish. There are variations, but for the most part, it consists of veggies, rice noodles, and meat. Then you pour fish sauce on it. It is very representative of Vietnamese dishes (including some of the fresh herbs). (Just ask for the noodle bowl with chicken).
I would also recommend the spring rolls (not fried). Similar ingredients as the noodle bowls, with rice noodles, herbs and fresh herbs. (Bonus points if the menu includes a "Make Your Own Spring Rolls" option, as you get to roll your own with whatever you like; which is also a fn activity).
The nice thing about these 2 dishes are, they are both very healthy.
Bahn-Mi sandwiches can be made with whatever meat you want (but be careful, as some of them come with head cheese automatically). I like the chicken bahn mi from Lee's sandwiches in Chandler.
Otherwise, Vietnamese dishes can be similar to other asian food (with elements of Chinese and Thai influence).
Wanted to mention that the noodle dishes will be named 'Bun' - meat name.
So Bun Chicken (of course, this will be the Vietnamese name for chicken, which I don't know). That should make it easy to find a good meal.
I would put a recommendation for Noodles Ranch in South Scottsdale. This is my favorite place in the Valley (and Ha Noi Pho in Denver, which is really great in Colo).
As far as pho in Tucson goes, I like Miss Saigon better than Pho 88--it's more flavorful. Additionally, since the OP doesn't eat beef, Miss Saigon has the added bonus of having chicken pho. I don't like it as well as the beef, but it's still pretty tasty. I'll also second the noodle dishes as being worth eating.
I tried the Asian Sandwich Deli once and was underwhelmed--the sandwich was mostly bread, the mung bean noodles were undercooked and very chewy, and the pork was tough. Ah, well. Friends of mine really like it, though.
There is a oriental super buffet on the west side of kolb & golf links, they are a cut above in my opinion. They offer some different things like lettuce wraps etc. The real unique thing is they have a PHO station and will put a bowl of it together for you all included in the buffet.
Pho is really good. There are usually many different varieties to choose from, but I usually stick with basic beef and meatballs.
Banh Mi, the Vietnamese sub-like sandwiches, can be addictive.
One thing I really love at most Vietnamese places are their egg rolls and spring rolls. The egg rolls usually are heavy on meat and when done right are amazing. I haven't been to any places in Tucson, so I can't offer suggestions on the restaurants there. I'd suggest working your way in slowly and keep an open mind.
Pho is steamed/boiled thin rice noodles served in a beef broth. The basic version (pho tai) has thin slices of beef in it and other versions just add different things, like tripe, chicken, shellfish, etc.... Without adding anything, it tends to taste like an incredibly flavorful beef broth. However, with the addition of the accompaniments (the server will generally bring out a little dish of lemon/lime, basil leaves (er, at least I think they are), bean sprouts and sliced jalapenos) you can pretty much find your own favorite flavor.
I love Miss Saigon! After leaving the Tucson area and moving back up to Phoenix about 2 years ago, I still crave their pho enough to make excuses to drive down there.