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Good pho west of Main -- Mintleaf Cafe

grayelf Mar 5, 2010 05:04 PM

I don't want to get too excited as I've only been once but this month-old Vietnamese cafe looks promising. Located at 2026 Stephens (just south of 4th; 604-738-8330), it is small but nicely appointed and very clean. The proprietors come by their trade honestly -- dad runs Saigon Venture on Burrard, which I have not tried. We went about 7:30 on a Tuesday and it was pretty empty but we were greeted with a smile and everything was made fresh (except the pho broth of course).

The menu is quite small and doesn't actually include our favourite pho tai but they were happy to provide it. At $7.50, it was a bit pricier than our usual haunts but the quality was very good of all ingredients and it is only 3.5 blocks from home. The SO ordered this dish and pronounced it one of the best phos he has tried (I tasted the broth and thought it was very good also). The noodles were firm, the beef was fresh and the bowl size was between medium and large. With a salad roll, he was stuffed.

And speaking of salad rolls, we split an order of the grilled minced pork hash rolls (2 for $4.25). When they arrived, our server advised they only had enough pork left for one and so she had subbed the grilled chicken for the other. Good call -- both were excellent, with lots of lemongrass flavour in the chicken and porky goodness in the hash, which as I have mentioned before is my favourite Vietnamese meaty item. The rolls were a touch smaller than you might get east of Main but the quality and freshness more than made up for that, IMO. For my main dish, I had the curry chicken with vermicelli soup. Loads of tender, tasty chicken (deboned thigh, I think), super thin al dente noodles and a creamy yellow broth. Only quibble -- we both felt the broth was too sweet, which we mentioned to the server who thanked us graciously for the feedback (which was otherwise entirely positive).

We will be back for more, and soon. They also have a selection of banh mi at $3.75, some specialty "subs", various other rolls, rice dishes and (yay!) Vietnamese coffee. Oh yeah, I tried the Vietnamese lemonade made fresh and it was great at $2.50, though I'd likely ask for a bit less sweetener next time. I'm thrilled that we have this place so close by and if the Benkei Ramen comes to pass on West Broadway, I will be in Asian noodle heaven without having to drive!

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  1. fmed RE: grayelf Mar 5, 2010 06:50 PM

    I'm now officially jealous. Benkei and good pho within walking distance? Too good to be true.

    1. waver RE: grayelf Mar 5, 2010 07:30 PM

      Thanks for that. We'll be there soon! ( A certain 5 year-old wants to know if they have a fish tank or possibly a fountain).

      I thought I had heard about the Benkei hitting KIts at some point, but then never saw any follow-up. What do you know about where/when? (Please soon).

      3 Replies
      1. re: waver
        grayelf RE: waver Mar 5, 2010 08:26 PM

        Waver, no fountain or fish tank -- this place is more "modern" than most Viet cafes in town. I think I'll pick up banh mi there this weekend...

        The Benkei thing was rumoured on another board I read -- I will walk by soon to see if there is any evidence!

        1. re: grayelf
          grayelf RE: grayelf Mar 9, 2010 08:11 AM

          As noted on the Santoku thread, Benkei West Broadway is on the way, with the awning already up. Can't wait!

          I hit Mintleaf for a banh mi to go yesterday and it was quite tasty. I got the beef and it was nice and lemongrassy though a tad dry (sliced very thin). Condiments were good but no trace of anything spicy -- I'll ask for that next time as I bet they have jalapenos or some such. The baguette was crispy outside with a nice light crumb, not quite as nice as Ba Le or Tung Hing but more than serviceable. I also got another pork salad roll which just as good but came with pork loaf instead of the grilled pork -- there were different folk behind the counter today. So far so good!

        2. re: waver
          LotusRapper RE: waver May 20, 2010 08:33 PM

          LOL. Our 4-yr old is particularly attracted to restaurants with live fish/lobster/crab tanks. Keeps him occupied and keeps Mom & Dad happily eating without disruptions.

        3. t
          twinkienic RE: grayelf Mar 6, 2010 11:54 AM

          Fantastic! I'll be by to check it out soon!

          1. b
            bdachow RE: grayelf Mar 9, 2010 09:21 AM

            Excellent news Grayelf....I'll have to send my sister there for a recon mission. Always hated having to travel to the east side to get the Vietnamese fix.

            19 Replies
            1. re: bdachow
              grayelf RE: bdachow Mar 11, 2010 02:07 PM

              I went by at 12:30 today after our countertop install (yay!) only to find that the baguette delivery had been delayed (they purchase their bread from Paris, same as Golden Garden in C'town). By the time the bread arrived a few minutes later, I had shifted gears to pho, not having tried it for myself yet. I really like it. Very light broth, clear and flavourful but lacking the floral spice notes that sometimes infiltrate (I'm not a fan myself). Noodles had a good chew to them without being too al dente. Sprouts and basil, nice and fresh. Cilantro free for the asking (o, cilantro in pho, how I've missed you!). Beef cut very thin but with good beefy taste, no soapiness, tender. I could have eaten all the broth without any condiments but of course I eventually caved and grabbed the red spicy tub :-).

              Apparently, business has been okay so far -- they sold out of pho last night by 8 pm and once it's gone it's gone till the next day's hand-made batch -- but do stop in and check it out if you are nearby. Just call first to make sure the bread has arrived :-).

              1. re: grayelf
                t
                twinkienic RE: grayelf Mar 11, 2010 04:37 PM

                The SO and I went by last night to try out Mintleaf Cafe. We got there around 8pm and so found that the beef pho was sold out. Ordered the pork hash spring roll (salad roll with pork sausage), house special rice, and curry chicken noodles.

                The curry chicken noodles were a bit sweet, as already noted by grayelf (though less sweet than Au Petit Cafe's version which is far too sweet). The noodles were thin and had a pretty good texture. I am personally not a huge fan of curry noodles, though, as I find I get tired of the taste pretty quickly.

                House special rice had grilled pork, beef and chicken with a fried egg on rice. The pork and chicken were a bit dry, but the grilled beef was tender and flavourful. It was a short-rib cut. We enjoyed this dish (especially because fried egg on rice is a huge comfort food for me).

                All in all, it was decent food. We'll be back because we live in the neighbourhood and it's nice to have a nearby option, though we likely wouldn't travel for this restaurant. We're keen to go back and try the pho though.

                1. re: twinkienic
                  grayelf RE: twinkienic Mar 11, 2010 10:13 PM

                  Thanks for the intel on the other dishes -- funny you got caught in the pho "runout" the proprietor told me about. I concur on your summary -- if I lived nearer the east end Viet joints I would not be driving to Kits but since I can walk a few blocks...

                  I'm interested to hear what you think of the pho bo, twinkie. The SO and I were discussing it over dinner tonight (coriander ribs, mmm) and agreed that we both like it very much but you should be prepared for a very subtle flavour.

                  1. re: grayelf
                    t
                    twinkienic RE: grayelf May 20, 2010 04:27 PM

                    We finally went back to try the pho. We got the beef pho as well as the chicken. I liked the beef broth but was disappointed by the lack of tripe, tendon and beef balls in the meat. The brisket and flank was tasty but the rare beef was too tough after cooked for a bit. They told us they were taking tripe and tendon off the menu because 9/10 times people asked to leave it out. Personally, I love having a big mix of random meat bits in my pho so I'd rather go elsewhere for pho.

                    1. re: twinkienic
                      LotusRapper RE: twinkienic May 20, 2010 08:43 PM

                      "They told us they were taking tripe and tendon off the menu because 9/10 times people asked to leave it out. "

                      That's an offal thing to do !!!

                      1. re: LotusRapper
                        grayelf RE: LotusRapper May 20, 2010 09:07 PM

                        I'm afraid it's the location that is responsible for the dumbing down. They had some interesting sounding desserts that they are not making becaused no one is ordering them. I totally understand going elsewhere if you want the naughty bits. We are pho tai fanatics so this place works for us :-).

                        1. re: grayelf
                          fmed RE: grayelf May 20, 2010 09:10 PM

                          West of Main St, pho with the nasty bits should be marketed as "nose to tail". It'll sell like hotcakes.

                          1. re: fmed
                            LotusRapper RE: fmed May 20, 2010 09:23 PM

                            Pho a la pièces assorties de vache :-)

                      2. re: twinkienic
                        waver RE: twinkienic May 20, 2010 09:51 PM

                        I'm curious: were you there lunch or dinner? We have been there several times since Grayelf brought it to our attention, always lunch, and I find it a little uninspired most recently. Lots of microwave dinging in the background, and not the freshness quotient one might hope for. I wonder if dinner is better? Or is the location generally letting them down? That "Healthy Noodle" around the corner on 4th isn't bad either - is it competing?

                        BTW I'm afraid I'm one of those lame-ohs who asks for their pho sans des choses assortis. Sorry. But I am highly appreciative of the nice dose of maggi on the sandwiches.

                        1. re: waver
                          t
                          twinkienic RE: waver May 20, 2010 11:38 PM

                          "That's an offal thing to do !!!"
                          (tee hee!)

                          Both times we dropped by we have been there for dinner.

                          I usually am not a fan of pho tai because i find the rare beef often cooks up too chewy. The only place I've been so far where the rare beef was really tender after it cooked was Hai Phong. Any other places with good rare beef?

                          -----
                          Hai Phong
                          1246 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5V, CA

                          1. re: twinkienic
                            LotusRapper RE: twinkienic May 21, 2010 12:56 AM

                            I like Thai Son (E. Broadway, Richmond, E. 1st Ave) myself.

                          2. re: waver
                            grayelf RE: waver May 21, 2010 07:23 AM

                            I've been half a dozen times now, for lunch and dinner. Worthwhile noting that the thread title is "good" pho, not great; although we like it very much, I'm aware that it likely will not reach the high standard of pho that we've come to expect on the east side. Every time we spot a Viet place west of the pho border, we try it. Mintleaf is the first place we've returned to. There's no denying part of the appeal is the walking distance but so far they haven't let us down (apart from being out of bread for banh mi a couple of times at the beginning). We haven't been for a couple of weeks (too much other Chowing) so the microwave pinging is a new and not so good thing to me.

                            1. re: grayelf
                              grayelf RE: grayelf May 26, 2010 02:30 PM

                              Replying to my own post as I noticed there are no photos from Mintleaf. Here's a couple: the sprout plate, a salad roll and the spring rolls, which you will notice immediately are NOT the Vietnamese style but were pretty tasty anyway if you are craving deep fried snacks.

                               
                               
                               
                              1. re: grayelf
                                grayelf RE: grayelf Jan 14, 2011 11:39 AM

                                Sad to report that Mintleaf is closed and the space is for lease.

                                1. re: grayelf
                                  waver RE: grayelf Jan 15, 2011 07:31 AM

                                  Have you tried the one across from the McDonalds on 41st? Its pretty good for "West Side."

                                  1. re: waver
                                    grayelf RE: waver Jan 15, 2011 07:44 AM

                                    Haven't tried any Viet in Kerrisdale for the simple reason that once I'm in the car and thinking pho it kinda drives itself to Kingsway :-). But I'll keep it in mind as the Parentals are near there and like pho. I take it you mean the McD's at 41st and the Boulevard?

                                    1. re: waver
                                      LotusRapper RE: waver Jan 15, 2011 12:17 PM

                                      Yeah, that's Pho Tan's:

                                      http://maps.google.ca/maps?q=kerrisda...

                                      I had one bowl of bún (vermicelli) with grilled pork and fried roll. Very good, exceeded my expectations. Would go back.

                                      1. re: LotusRapper
                                        waver RE: LotusRapper Jan 16, 2011 08:45 AM

                                        Yup, that's the one. Just beware if you're going for lunch that it fills up with kids from the high school nearby for a brief time right around noon.

                                        1. re: waver
                                          grayelf RE: waver Aug 2, 2012 07:44 AM

                                          Totally late in reporting back: we got takeout banh mi from Pho Tan last summer and they used iceberg lettuce on it. Nuff said.

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