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Dec 8, 2009 06:54 PM

Vietnamese soup obsession

in general, i've not yet been very impressed with any of my Asian food excursions in Austin (excepting Uchi, which i think is more New American or New Japanese than Asian)...

until now.

i've had the best Vietnamese soups i've had outside of VietNam at Lily's Sandwich in the Chinatown Center (Lamar x Kramer).

not that i traveled extensively in VietNam, or was there for a particiularly long time... but just that some of the soups i had there really made an impression. although i love a bowl of pho, there is much life beyond it.

esp. since i prefer shellfish and pork to beef.

back to Lily's Sandwich.

the Bahn Mi are OK. nothing special, but fine.

but look beyond the $3 sandwiches, and it's a whole, brave, new world.

They have at least 8 styles of noodle soups. so far i have only had 2 of them. 1 of them i have had 3 times this week, it is so very, very good.

so far, my favorite is the #26 Crab Vermicelli. i couldn't even tell you everything in it, but i'll try to replicate. it does not look like the photograph on the wall, which looks good too. a big bowl, filled with vermicelli rice noodles and a seafood broth. the broth is light and fresh tasting in a sense, but also deep and murky and funky in another sense (a good way) -- some fermented fish flavors. it is herbal, peppery, and barely salty. added were pig's blood (easily picked out, and ordered again without -- not unpleasant, but not a benefit to my palate either. at least it taste fresh and "clean"), tofu, shrimp, and loose, falling apart "meatballs" that might be ground pork and crab. fried shallots, cilantro, and a plate of shredded cabbage and lemon-basil.

insanely good.

the first time i ordered it, the guy tried to steer me to #31 -- said it was better. so we got a bowl of that too. it's broth was lighter, sweeter, with none of the funk. it had shrimp and maybe some roast pork slices and some fish-cake and both egg-noodles and bean-thread, i think some water-spinach or similar green...served with a plate of bean sprouts and basil. also very good.

lots of other noodle soups that i may try someday; some that i probably won't.

try anything and everything. the prices are reasonable. the guy (the owner?) is friendly. it is rarely crowded.


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  1. Good lord, I just woke up starving and I wish I could have a bowl of that #26 right now.....great description, Charlie_b.

    I will get over there soon.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rudeboy

      Theri on line menu must be out of date....I don't see many items on it:

    2. #31 sounds like a kind of hu tieu, a noodle soup with a pork & seafood broth. Tan My on Ohlen and TC Noodle House across the parking lot in Chinatown also make a good version of that.

      I need to check Lily's out, though - I was a little disappointed in their banh mi but these noodles sound amazing. Thanks!

      6 Replies
      1. re: brentwood

        Don't miss out on Lilly's homemade yogurt from the refrigerator case out front. It's deep tang makes it the best I've found in Austin.

        1. re: brentwood

          Austinites don't know how LUCKY they are to have TC Noodle House, serving authentic Teochew food.

          NYC doesn't even have one.

          1. re: conquer

            Sorry to be lazy, but it might benefit us all if you could provide more detail. If we're that lucky, I want to know about it!

            1. re: rudeboy

              "Chiuchow cuisine, Teochew cuisine or Chaozhou cuisine or Chaoshan cuisine (Chinese: 潮州菜; pinyin: Cháozhou cài) originates from Chaoshan, a region of China in the north-easternmost area of the Guangdong Province, which includes the cities of Chaozhou, Shantou and Jieyang. Teochew cuisine, however, bears more similarities to Fujian cuisine, as which it shares many of the same dishes, than to Cantonese cuisine, under which it is vulnerable to inaccurate categorisation.

              Teochew cuisine is particularly well known for its seafood and vegetarian dishes and is commonly regarded as being healthy. Its use of flavouring is much less heavy-handed than most other Chinese cuisines and depends much on the freshness and quality of the ingredients for taste and flavour. As a delicate cuisine, oil is not often used in large quantities and there is a relatively heavy emphasis on poaching, steaming and braising, as well as the common Chinese method of stir-frying. Chaozhou cuisine is also known for serving rice soup (潮州糜 or mue), in addition to steamed rice or noodles with meals. The Teochew mue is rather different from the Cantonese counterpart, the former being very watery with the rice sitting loosely at the bottom of the bowl.

              "A condiment that is commonly associated with Teochew cuisine is Shacha sauce. This popular paste is also used in Fujian and Taiwanese cuisine. It is made from soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chilis, brill fish, and dried shrimp. The paste has a savory and slightly spicy taste.

              "In addition to soy sauce (widely used in all Chinese cuisines), Teochew cuisine is one of the few regional Chinese that makes use of fish sauce due to Chaoshan's coastal land. It is used as a flavoring agent (for e.g. in soup), rather than a dip. As an ingredient, peanuts are a relatively prominent feature in this cuisine; used both in savory dishes and desserts. They can be boiled, fried, roasted, crushed, grounded or even turned into a paste. Peanuts can be used as a garnish or feature in soups, amongst others.

              "Teochew chefs pride themselves in their skills of vegetable carving, and carved vegetables are used as garnishes on cold dishes and on the banquet table.

              "Unlike the typical menu selections of many other Chinese cuisines, Teochew restaurant menus often have a dessert section.

              "Many people of Chaoshan origin, also known as Teochiu or Teochew people, have settled in Southeast Asia during the Chinese Diaspora, especially Singapore and Thailand; influences they bring can be noted in the cuisine of Singapore and that of other settlements. This review article, for example, illustrates a Teochew Noodles House in Singapore. A large number of Teochew people have also settled in Taiwan, evident in Taiwanese cuisine."


              Famous dishes:

              1. re: conquer

                i think rudeboy could have just as easily looked it up on Wikipedia

                1. re: conquer

                  I don't find TC to be that authentically Teochew. Or rather I should say that there are few dishes there that are found exclusively in Teochew and more dishes that are found in both Cantonese and Vietnamese cuisine.

                  There are a few dishes I like there such as the blackbean chicken and the fried chicken with shrimp paste. I would recommend against the noodles though. Not that they are bad, but for what you get, egg noodles with meat and or seafood, known as hu tieu in vietnamese, you can probably get a better deal elsewhere at either a Vietnamese place or getting a bowl of Wonton noodles with BBQ pork or duck at a cantonese BBQ place.

          2. I love their bun bo hue, and am hightailing it back for a #26!


            1. Nice work! We are new to Austin from SF and have found our fix up in the Chinatown Center
              It's tough to change Pho spots when you've found a winner - we go to Pho Siagon and it does the trick - now we'll have to check out Lily's and TC Noodle - It may take awhile as I don't think the wife will be cool with the whole weekend spent up there! Any word on the dim sum place up there?

              3 Replies
              1. re: highlife

                This might be too much of a derail for the mods (moving from Vietnamese soup to Dim Sum, I mean), but since you asked, the Dim Sum Place in the Chinatown Center (Fortune) is very good. I particularly enjoy the curried squid, soup dumplings, and Shu Mai. Good fast service, and a lively place all together.

                1. re: gilintx

                  Off topic for sure but have you had the ribeye at Fortune? Been meaning to get by there and try it.

                  1. re: scrumptiouschef


                    Have only been for Dim Sum, but now that I look at the menu, I'm eager to try it, too.

              2. The #26 soup is called the Bun Reo I believe. The loose meatballs are made of egg and some crabmeat. You can find the same soup at Sunflower as well.

                It used to be that the best version of this soup was at the Pho Saigon at the more southern side of Lamar near 183 but that place is now closed.

                For other interesting soups, I would try out the #73 in the Pho Saigon in MT Chinatown.

                1 Reply
                1. re: lixlix

                  omg, i just tried the #73 you've been mentioning. didn't realize it was a Bun Suon Tom Gio Heo. I've been eating this particular soup at Pho Danh this past year and didn't even realize it existed elsewhere. i like Pho Danh's version, but must say that Pho Saigon's version is quite spectacular. The shrimp balls in Pho Saigon's version have more flavor (i spotted various herbs), instead of just being a ball of ground shrimp (like at Pho Danh). I think the broth overall tastes richer at Pho Saigon, although Pho Danh's might be clearer. but wow, think i'll be dreaming of this soup all night... :)

                  i'm quite excited to try this Bun Reo at Lily's too now! as for other non-pho Vietnamese soups, i'm quite fond of the Canh Chua Nha Trang at Sea Dragon...