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Best representative vietnamese dishes?

I am beginning to explore Vietnamese restaurants in my area and would like some general suggestions about what to order. I recognize that any individual restaurant may have certain dishes that "stand out" from the crowd and are worth the trip alone. What I'm really looking for is 3 or so "representative" or "go-to" dishes that I could order from all of these restaurants in order to compare apples to apples. I am an omnivore and have am happy with meat/no meat, as long as it's authentic.

Thanks in advance for your help.

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  1. IMHO, pho is the singular Vietnamese representative dish that can be compared between restaurants fairly easily.

    1. After pho, there is ban mi. I also like the carmelized catfish in a clay pot. I've seen these in most Vietnamese restaurants.

      1. People have mentioned pho -- I'd go with a beef-based option. Bun bo Hue is another common noodle soup.

        The vermicelli or rice bowls are great summer meals. Bun thit nuong -- rice vermicelli with grilled pork -- is a common option.

        Banh mi (the sandwiches) are also a good basis for comparison. Most places offer a 'combo' option with various cold cuts and pate; it's usually the most interesting option if you don't mind not knowing exactly what you're eating.

        Finally, banh xeo is a rice crepe dish with a bunch of stuff in it. Not as easy to find, but worth trying if you feel like exploring.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Scrofula

          Bun thit nuong cha gio (rice vermicelli with grilled pork with fried rolls) is my fave non-soup noodles dish :-)

          My point is, pho really showcases the talent in the kitchen as far as the quality and depth of the beef broth goes.

          Here's a blog site dedicated to pho:

          http://www.lovingpho.com/

          And another (NSFW or NSFH), bit of a play on Team America the movie:

          http://fuckyeahpho.tumblr.com/

          1. re: Scrofula

            Banh Xeo is something I frequently order. Is does take some skill to produce and is very authentic.
            Cha Gio is something I like very much. I usually make them for a party.

          2. Pho, Bánh mì, and Com Tam Suon Bi Trung are the ones to benchmark.

            Pic --> http://thuyancom.blogspot.com/2011/01...

            1. The ones that are representative to me are my favorites, Cha Giao and Bun Bo Hue. If the restaurant does these well, then I will explore their menu.