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May 29, 2013 11:58 AM

Richmond: Huong Tra for Vietnamese

Huong Tra has been recommended often for Vietnamese in the El Cerrito/Richmond area. No thread of its own to date, so I thought I’d start one.

Last week I was passing through the area and thought I’d try the Banh Xeo. But someone else has that honor because I detoured for the Mi Quang, a Central noodle dish, when I spotted it on the menu.

The Mi Quang is quite top-heavy, loaded up with a mound of sautéed pork, crushed peanuts, a few poached shrimp, fried shallots, cilantro, scallions, iceberg lettuce, and a ladleful of very meaty stock. Nothing else in the way of fresh herbs or greens, then the banh trang (black sesame cracker) added crunch.

The noodles stock and are served hot rather than lukewarm here. The pork-based stock serves to flavor in a gravy-way rather than being the base of a soup-noodle dish. Quite fatty, I needed the lemon to cut through the grease.

The turmeric-stained noodles are yellower in hue than exposed in this photo.

Here’s a link to my post on Quan Hue in San Jose for comparison, my most recent encounter with Mi Quang.

What else do folks like here?

Huong Tra
12221 San Pablo Ave Ste 8, Richmond, CA 94805

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  1. I order take out here at least 4 times a month. Usually we get one of the Phos, spring rolls or summer rolls, papaya salad, and the grilled pork, shrimp and egg roll over rice.

    My huband likes their rice plates too, including the stir fried green beans over rice. I think it tastes kind of like mongolian beef, which isn't a bad thing, just doesn't interest me as much.

    I've tried their Banh Xeo about a year ago but found it way too greasy, though might give it another shot. The best one I've ever had was at Slanted Door, and I'm not a fan of the restaurant. Obvioulsy there is a big discrepancy in the price of these two restaurants. But at Slanted Door you could taste the freshness of the ingredients and there was no excess of grease.

    Another Vietnamese we eat at often is Pho Thai Hong. My husband likes the variety better there. For straight pho, I like Pho Saigon in Pacific East Mall. I think they have the best pho broth in the East Bay, but it's a bit farther than Huong Tra from my house so we don't go there as often.

    Overall, I really like Huong Tra. It's close to my house, they are friendly, have solid food and is reasonably priced.

    Oh, has anyone tried their sandwiches? I usually go to the Banh Mi place in El Cerrito for those so have never tried them here.

    3 Replies
    1. re: calalilly

      Thanks for the rundown, calalilly! At 4+ time a month, sounds like Huong Tra is your second kitchen.

      I was curious about the banh mi here too. I've not been to Ba Le in El Cerrito either.

      What was interesting to me about Huong Tra is that it had dishes such as mi quang that aren't seen very often around here. Also bun cha hanoi.

      1. re: calalilly

        I had similar comments about the banh xeo at Slanted Door (above). I think it's a dish that's particularly dependent on the quality of the ingredients and the skill in execution, both of which you'd expect to find at Slanted Door.

        1. re: calalilly

          Pho Thai Hong has the overly bright harsh fluorescent feel of every barebones place I ever ate at in SE Asia. I love it for that reason alone, decent food is a bonus.

        2. I used to work down the street (in one of the warehouses across from McDonald's), so I would eat at Huong Tra every once in a while. I only ordered the usual pho bowl and banh mi. The pho was fine, but nothing spectacular. The banh mi was good, too. My favorite banh mi is probably from Cam Huong in Oakland, though.

          1 Reply
          1. re: westcoaststyle

            Been awhile since I've been to Cam Huong either, but I think of it as the bountiful, well-stuffed style of banh mi. My own taste runs to a more delicate construction. Which way does Huong Tra's banh mi lean?

          2. My family's been coming here for years, maybe a few times a year. I like its unpretentious reliability, everything tastes just as I remember it and the staff is always smiling and welcoming. It's nothing fancy or amazing, but it's been the same for almost a decade and there's lots of comfort in that predictability.

            I pretty much always order the pho (#22 with extra tendon) because I love their rich, fatty broth and their gelatinous soft tendon. I am so focused on their pho I barely ever read the rest of the menu, but I think my dad likes their tofu rice plates and various shrimp stirfries, and my SO likes the seafood noodle soup. Their summer rolls are fine if nothing super special. I also found the banh xeo to be on the greasy side, but we only ordered it once.

            On my last visit, I just noticed that they have bun rieu on the menu, a recent mini-obsession of mine since I had Soup Junkies' delicious version at the La Cocina Night Market last year. I intend to try that next time if I can keep myself from ordering the pho.

            The mi quang looks interesting, perhaps I'll give that a whirl too!

            5 Replies
            1. re: greymalkin

              "unpretentious reliability" --- so true, predictability is a very important factor for neighborhood places like this.

              Interesting that you mention the fatty pho stock. I'd been used to thinking of pho as a sheet, defatted stock. Then a Viet acquaintance mentioned that home versions are tastier because they don't remove the fat and bits of meat floating on the surface. He also said that you can ask pho restaurants to add it back onto your bowl. But I don't recall what the name for this is.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Melanie, there are several options for upping the richness in your bowl of pho. No. 7 in this article names them .... Nuoc Beo is the fatty broth. I've also asked and they brought out a bowl of oil/fat to add as you wish.


                1. re: gordon wing

                  That's it, thanks.

                  You've ordered it this way at Huong Tra?

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    No, I ordered the extra fat/oil at Pho Ao Sen in Oakland .... the site has a nice pronounciation feature for many Vietnamese food items.

                  2. re: gordon wing

                    Nice link, thank you! It's very interesting to learn about the ways to customize a bowl of pho beyond just the sauces and herbage at the table.

              2. Based on your recommendation, I went here specifically for the Mi Quang. I have Thai, Lao or Viet noodles 3 or 4 times a week these days, and this was a delicious novelty. I agree with your description overall except I didn't find the broth too fatty and would have liked a bit more of it to make it a bit soupier. I liked all the toppings, though I found the pork seasoning verging on the too sweet.

                I took a couple of bahn mi to go, grilled beef and grilled pork. I didn't eat them right away, but they were still tasty. Again, the meat fillings were on the sweeter side, but flavorful. I would say they were more similar to Cam Huong (Oakland) sandwiches than Banh Mi Ba Le sandwiches. I don't think they removed any bread, making for a quite stuffed and pillowy sandwich. Less daikon/carrot and more cucumber than the other two places.

                2 Replies
                1. re: twocents

                  Have you had the Mì Quảng at Phở King in Oakland?
                  Judging from the Pictures that Melanie posted it is quite different and one of my Favorites.
                  The Yellow Noodles are in a small amount Broth that contains a bit of Tomato and may be some Shrimp Paste. It is topped with grilled Shrimp, thinly sliced roast Pork, little Pork Riblets and crushed Peanut. Black Sesame Cracker, shredded Lettuce and Herbs on the side.

                  1. re: chefj

                    I haven't but thanks for posting. Will keep it in mind.

                2. For good measure, here's another version of Mi Quang, not quite as top heavy and light pork broth. Will try the Huong Tra version next. We always get the pho or bahn mi.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: dolcetto

                    Is that Pho King"s? Looks like it.