Forty-four years after the fall of Saigon resulted in thousands of refugees resettling in America, the popularity and demand for Vietnamese food is at an all time high. Pho has joined chicken noodle as a quintessential comfort food. Banh mi shops rank among the best sandwich joints in the country. Dishes like shaking beef and bun bo hue have gone from rare specialty dishes to mainstays in a few short decades. We might just be living in the golden era of Vietnamese food in the US.
The restaurants on this list span massive metropolitan areas and lesser-known towns with huge Vietnamese populations. They include hip upstarts, old-school mom & pop gems, and Michelin-starred dining destinations. They represent the wide reach of Vietnamese cuisine, both traditional and new-school. These are the very best Vietnamese restaurants in America right now.
Fountain Valley & Los Angeles, California When Au Lac was founded in 1996, raw and vegan diets weren’t nearly as popular as they are today. Mai Nguyen opened the restaurant because switching to a wholly plant-based diet helped her recover from a serious illness, and she wanted to pay it forward by sharing the diet that saved her with the world. Twenty-three years later, Au Lac isn’t just legendary within Orange County -- it is one of the oldest and best vegan restaurants in the region, where vegan and raw have been fully embraced. Now expanded to downtown LA and helmed by Chef Ito -- who took a vow of silence, which somehow makes the food even more expressive -- the menu's foundation consists of organic produce, natural ingredients, and water purified by reverse osmosis. Those are the building blocks for some of the most delicious plant-based Vietnamese cuisine in the country, from bun bo hue (royal noodle soup), to bo luc lac (faux beef with watercress), to the famous ca nuong trui, a dish of grilled soy "fish" and rice paper wraps prepared so beautifully, it's hard to believe the ingredients weren't previously swimming. It's transcendent.
Seattle, Washington Now with three locations across Seattle, Ba Bar -- sibling restauranteurs Eric and Sophie Banh’s all-day Vietnamese street food joint -- is equally satisfying as a late breakfast or a late-night preemptive hangover slayer. Named after the Banh patriarch and inspired by the foods they ate on the streets of Vietnam, local sourcing contributes to the quality of the bites here. The pho, made with Painted Hills beef and local oxtails, is a true bone broth. Xiu mai meatballs are rolled using grass-fed beef, while Washington Coast rockfish forms the basis of their cha ca la vong (turmeric fish). Offered on Saturday and Sunday only, don’t miss their house specialty banh cuon, and make sure to try the custom-brewed Saigon Siblings lagered ale on tap.
Fountain Valley, California Can an entire empire be built on one single dish? In the case of Brodard Restaurant, the answer is a resounding yes. It’s estimated that across Brodard’s three restaurants -- Brodard Restaurant and Brodard Chateau in Orange County's Little Saigon, plus Bamboo Bistro in Corona del Mar -- more than 10,000 of Brodard's signature grilled pork sausage-loaded spring rolls, nem nuong cuon, are made each day. Like David Chang’s Momofuku pork belly buns, the dish has spawned countless imitators since it was first introduced almost two decades ago, but no one can touch Brodard’s original recipe spring roll. It's a masterpiece of layering: garlic-spiked grilled Vietnamese sausage, a crisp wonton stick, fresh lettuce, herbs, and pickled carrots are rolled in rice paper with one long spring of green onion, served with the closely guarded secret recipe “mom’s sauce” dip. The full menu is loaded with great soups and rice dishes too, but you'd be forgiven for ordering a pile of those spring rolls and calling it a day.
Houston, Texas Emblematic of the Houston-born genre of Vietnamese known as Viet-Cajun, the critically acclaimed Crawfish and Noodles -- which has been featured in everything from David Chang’s Ugly Delicious to PBS’ The Mind of a Chef -- provides a good benchmark for how this new style of cuisine should taste. During crawfish season (January through July), come for tasty mudbugs coated in lip-tingling buttery-garlic Cajun-spiced sauce by chef-owner Trong Nguyen. A self-trained chef and a James Beard Award Best Chef Southwest semifinalist for the last two years, Nguyen also makes a knock-your-socks off braised Cajun turkey neck, unforgettable Vietnamese salt n' pepper blue crabs, and a fantastic spectrum of Vietnamese classics ranging from bo tai chanh (beef salad cooked with lemon) to hu tieu noodle soup and fish sauce wings.
New York City Winner of Eater NY’s 2018 Design of the Year award, this hip, stylish restaurant in NYC’s Greenpoint area amassed fans literally from the moment it opened. And while the design is definitely a highlight (think tropical vibes with hanging plants channeling Vietnam’s famed resort city of Dalat), this is top-notch food that would shine even if it was served up in a Motel 6. This is not the classic food of the early Vietnamese immigrant wave, but cheffed up Vietnamese-American fare. You’ll revel in bowls of Hanoi-style beef pho teeming with scallions and punctuated by one perfectly round orange egg yolk, and be delighted with creations like the Vietnamese “pizza” made with grilled rice paper and topped with shrimp floss, egg, ground pork, and pickled chilis. The restaurant name, translated, says it all: “Let’s go eat!” Heed that command.
San Jose, California One of the coolest things about Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine is that it takes “man” or savory meat dishes and turns them into “chay,” or vegetarian versions. At Di Lac in the South Bay, you’ll see mahogany-skinned Peking duck, half chicken plates with rice, and bun thit nuong rice vermicelli teeming with chunks of grilled pork. Or so it seems. Extraordinarily, just about everything at Di Lac is plant-based, organic, and straight from the farm. The recipes are developed by owners Alice and Douglas Nguyen as part of their personal commitment to eat deliciously and nutritiously while doing no harm to animals. Meatless versions of bun bo hue (spicy beef and pork noodle from Hue) and mi vit tiem (duck and egg noodle soup), not to mention their killer lau, or hot pot, are are a testament to how wonderfully this place upends expectations without compromising on taste in the least.
Minneapolis, Minnesota How easy is it to fall smitten with Hai Hai (translated “two two”) in Northeastern Minneapolis? Just grab a seat on the festive patio decked out with decidedly un-Midwestern palm trees and turquoise blue stools channeling the feel of Vietnam’s many streetside cafes: The setting alone will seduce you even before the food hits the table. Inspired by owners Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem’s travels through Southeast Asia and Nguyen’s own childhood culinary memories, the food itself is beautiful. Little saucers of banh beo water-fern cakes are piled high with mung bean, ground pork, fried shallots and scallion. Banh xeo Vietnamese crepe comes overstuffed with either pork/shrimp or shiitakes, with a side of crisp greens ready for assembly at the table. An already Instagram-famous Hanoi sticky rice with pink pickled red onion, tan pork floss, yellow egg, and deep-green fried shallot is so aesthetically pleasing you might feel guilty cramming it into your mouth. The kicker to it all? Stellar cocktails like the aptly named “Best Life,” a grapefruit-guava tequila-based cocktail with a splash of aperol and a dash of umami-boosting MSG.
Chicago, Illinois From rave reviews by local food critics to a semifinalist nod by the James Beard Awards and Bib Gourmand status in Chicago’s Michelin Guide, the accolades have been numerous for this contemporary Vietnamese restaurant by husband and wife duo Thai and Danielle Dang. Choose a family-style tasting menu and get seated at the communal table, or do do the food-obsessive thing and get a seat at the chef’s counter. Either way, you’ll find food that is soulful and richly textured, providing unapologetically traditional Vietnamese flavors tempered with contemporary touches. The canh ga chien (deep-fried-fish sauce chicken wings) are a must, and the goi du du (papaya salad with beef jerky) is explosive in explosively bright with just the right savory kick. Grilled items like the bo nuong toi (garlic grilled ribeye with kaffir lime and salt) and the ca nuong (whole grilled mediterranean sea bass) are also standouts, pairing well with top-tier cocktails like a Passionfruit Margarita made of Thai chili-infused Peloton Tequila, passionfruit, and chile de arbol for a nice spice kick.
Portland, Oregon This cultishly beloved Vietnamese noodle shop is the kind of spot that Anthony Bourdain would have championed: hidden in a strip mall, no-frills, and offering endlessly complex flavors in slurppable form. A mom & pop shop opened by Christina Ha Luu in 2006, HaVL started out as simple cafe selling banh mi. Needing to bolster the revenue, Luu added a noodle soup, which sold out almost immediately. So she added another, and another. As of 2018, HaVL -- which now has a spinoff, Rose VL Deli -- no longer sells banh mi, focusing instead on the noodle soups that have made them famous and earned them nominations to the James Beard Awards for the last three consecutive years. The soups are prepared fresh daily, each one is distinct and delicious, and you have to come on specific days if you have a preference or a craving. You have to come early, too, because they sell out around noon. Thursdays feature the soulful bun cha oc, a Northern Vietnamese rice vermicelli soup made with snail meatballs. Saturdays, the most coveted bowl is the rich, lemongrass-fragranced spicy beef noodle soup known as bun bo hue. And if you’re in any doubt about the magnificence of the soups, head to HaVL on Sundays and get the mi quang, a turmeric noodle soup with a scant pork broth, shrimp, and rice crackers -- the secret recipe yields the kind of heady broth that inspires undying devotion.
San Francisco, California After a 12-year run as the executive chef and owner of Ana Mandara, an upscale French-Vietnamese restaurant he co-owned with Don Johnson and Cheech Marin, chef Khai Duong took five years off to revisit his homeland, re-emerging in 2016 with an eponymous 10-course tasting menu restaurant featuring what he calls Vietnamese Nouveau cuisine. Duong’s menu reinterprets Vietnamese food in haute cuisine format: cha ca la vong is made using a black cod sable fish marinated in turmeric and galangal (a root similar to ginger); delicate butter-poached lobster is served with a spicy banana sauce; while the signature dessert showcases silky young coconut rolled “banh cuon”-style roll and filled with durian. It's so good, you won't even notice the restaurant isn't co-owned by the cast of Nash Bridges.
Houston, Texas Constrained by the size of the tiny kitchen at his first brick and mortar location, Les Ba’get chef and owner Cat Huynh always wanted to offer more, but couldn’t. That was then. With the debut of his new restaurant in Houston’s Garden Oaks area, he now has room to tinker in the kitchen to his heart’s desire. The result is a contemporary Vietnamese menu with Gulf Coast influences. Banh mi sandwiches are offered with fillings like sous vide beef belly and oak-smoked brisket. Pho is prepared with grass-fed Black Angus beef from local 44 Farms, with the luxe upgrade options of thinly sliced A5 Wagyu beef from Japan. Vietnamese classics get reimagined, as in the case of his bun rieu crab omelette, a take on the northern Vietnamese noodle soup made from pounded crab and tomatoes. Turns out a little elbow room was all the chef needed to make his masterpieces.
Atlanta, Georgia The smell of fish sauce might overwhelm you at both locations of this no-frills family-owned spot in Atlanta, but that’s part of what makes this old-school joint such a gem. Though the menu is chock-full of Vietnamese classics like the popular bo luc lac (shaking beef) or canh ga chien (fish sauce wings), the star of the show is the head-turning ba vi, an appetizer plate of bo nuong la lot (grilled beef wrapped in betel leaf), chao tom (grilled shrimp paste wrapped around sugarcane), and nem nuong (grilled pork sausage) served with vegetables and springy rice vermicelli noodles. For groups of two or more, the hearty and affordable family meals are the way to go -- you can snag four to five courses of soup, salad, appetizers, a main course, and white rice for a set price far lower than you'd expect.
Huntington Beach, California Chic, posh, a little secret, and a little rebellious, this 28-seat “restaurant within a restaurant” located inside Bluegold in Huntington Beach turns out breathtakingly beautiful contemporary Vietnamese food. The brainchild of chef Tin Vuong, who is behind a growing empire of 10 restaurants and counting, high-quality ingredients and classic technique are applied to great effect here: Suon nuong grilled pork chops are sourced with the fat caps on, marinated for two days, sous vided and then grilled to juicy, flavorful tenderness. A classic Shaky Shaky Beef bo luc lac with garlic tomato rice bursts with flavor thanks to a burnt butter soy sauce accompaniment. Meanwhile, bo tai chanh (raw beef cooked with lemon) takes a modern spin in the form of smoked beef tartare with a quail egg and shrimp chips. Recognized for quality by the California Michelin Guide, LSXO is one of just five restaurants in Orange County in 2019 to receive the “Bib Gourmand” designation.
Portland, Oregon Brothers Adam and Alan Ho tapped into potential of the late-night downtown Portland scene with their breakaway hit, Luc Lac. A counter-service concept, Luc Lac specializes in pho, crazy-flavorful small plates -- think the pork tenderloin skewers, sausage-packed vermicelli bowls, and grilled pork banh mi -- and creative cocktail. The restaurant's popularity and affordability (most of the menu is still in the sub-$10 range) means there’s usually a line out the door, and not just because it's a rare late-night option in notoriously early bird Portland: The place is a legit contender in a city offering a wealth of great Vietnamese options. Place your order, get a number, and get seated when a table is free. While you’re waiting, try a cocktail like the Luc Lac Lush, in which Drambuie scotch liqueur gets tropical spin thanks to the addition of jackfruit, coconut, mung bean and lychee jelly. For provisions, the namesake luc lac (shaking beef seared in Hennessy) is obligatory, as is their “train” pho. Or get both. It's late, and leftover pho is a tried-and-true hangover cure.
New York City The image has made the rounds nationally: A bowl of pho topped with short rib so large, the bone protrudes from the side of the bowl. Welcome to Madame Vo, the East Village restaurant by husband and wife duo Jimmy Ly and Yen Vo (aka Madame Vo) that instantly shot to the list of best Vietnamese restaurants in the city within months of opening. Family recipes dictate the flavor and makeup of each dish, but it’s Ly’s eye for aesthetics and his commitment to quality sourcing that makes the food memorable, and yes, Instagrammable. Do order the Southern Vietnamese style beef pho with the honkin’ huge short rib. To that, add a plate banh bot chien (fried rice cakes with egg) and the cua lot rang muoi (salt-toasted softshell crab with spicy avocado sauce) while sipping on a creamy and luscious avocado shake. Come hungry, and expect to bring home leftovers.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania South Philly is home to the largest Vietnamese population in the tristate area, so it goes without saying that Vietnamese eats abound. Nam Phuong, a stalwart for more than 15 years, stands tall as one of the area’s OG greats. With a spacious dining room that easily accommodates large families and a menu that touches on all the core Vietnamese dishes -- from pho to banh cuon steamed rice rolls, banh xeo crispy crepes, com tam broken rice dishes, and bowls of springy bun rice vermicelli -- Nam Phuong is the surest bet when you’re craving down home Vietnamese cuisine. The family meals, offered at a value for parties of two or more, provide a set menu of typical Southern comfort food such as goi cuon (spring rolls), canh ca chua (sour fish soup), ca kho to (caramelized fish in clay pot), and thit bo xao dau (beef sauteed with green beans). It's pure comfort, especially in a deep Pennsylvania winter.
Westminster, California Known for its excellent rendition of bun bo hue, a spicy pork hock and beef noodle soup from central Vietnam, this stalwart mom & pop shop in Southern California's Little Saigon regularly appears on Orange County’s best of dining lists thanks to its fresh, quality preparations of central Vietnamese cuisine. The mochi-like steamed and fried banh it ram are textural masterpieces, while the eye-popping banh beo chen steamed rice cakes in tiny round saucers are lowkey showstoppers. A simple rice plate of braised fish caramel pork sparerib and shrimp, com suon tom rim, is also second to none.
Garden Grove, California When Oc & Lau -- “oc” means “snails,” while “lau” means “hot pot” -- opened in 2013, it was an instant success. Now with two locations, the original has a slight edge in terms of quality and service. Check into the waitlist online to avoid waiting around and getting increasingly hungry, come with a group so that you can do justice to the generous portions, then order with abandon. Mollusks are a must: Try the oc len xao dua (coconut swirly mud creepers), the oc huong nuong tieu (grilled escargots with garlic butter), the oc mong tay nuong mo hang (grilled razor clams with buttered green onions), and the so diep thai thuong hoang nuong trung ca (grilled king scallops with fish eggs). Hot pots are also excellent: the best of the lot is the lau thai hai san (Thai seafood hot pot), a tangy tom yum-style, tamarind-based broth accompanied by heaping plates of seafood and vegetables.
Sugar Land, Texas On the surface, it’s a nondescript strip mall pho restaurant in a Houston suburb. But step inside, and the Vietnamese cuisine at this mom & pop will transport you to the streets of Vietnam with exemplary, homemade tasting versions of Northern Vietnamese dishes such as bun cha Hanoi (grilled pork patties and rice vermicelli), bun rieu (tomato and crab rice vermicelli soup), and bun oc (rice vermicelli and snail soup). Chef-owner DoanTrang LaiVu always has some sort of special going, like bun hen (rice vermicelli with clams) or mi quang (central style turmeric noodles with pork and shrimp). Her nem chua preserved pork sausage, available during the weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year, is not to be missed, the kind of dish that you'd want to eat every day if you could. But hey, you know what they say about absence…
Honolulu, Hawaii It’s one of the most exciting Vietnamese restaurants in America, and it’s not even on the mainland. Meet The Pig and the Lady, the critically acclaimed family affair helmed by Honolulu-born, CIA-trained chef Andrew Le (“the pig”), his mama Loan Le, (“the lady”), and managed by his brother Alex Le (the, uh, manager). Famous for its pho French dip sandwich and a pho noodle soup that must stand up to the rigorous quality control of Mama Le’s tastebuds, family-style ordering is the way to go: Start with an ahi tataki banh mi toast and an order of the insanely popular “Le Fried Chicken” wings garnished with kaffir lime, shallots, peanuts, and “money” sauce; add the Duroc pork chop; then finish off with a bowl of pho or hu tieu noodles. Pro tip: If bone marrow is offered as an accompaniment to the pho, don’t hesitate. It takes an already perfect dish and makes it makes it even better.
Minneapolis, Minnesota Open since 1989, Quang is the OG of Vietnamese restaurants in Minneapolis, a staple eatery located in the heart of the Twin Cities’ Eat Street corridor. Though founder Lung Tran has retired, her recipes live on through her kids and grandkids, who run the restaurant today. Whether you get the cha gio egg rolls, com suon nuong grilled pork chop with broken rice, banh mi sandwiches, or a bowl of ultra-fragrant pho, the entire menu is tried and true. There are no wrong choices here. So go ahead and order that difficult-to-master bun bo hue. Like most else on the menu, it’s the kind of delicious that only comes with years and years of practice.
Seattle, Washington A bright star among the many restaurants in the Little Saigon area of Seattle’s International District, Tamarind Tree is the kind of Vietnamese restaurant any city would be lucky to have. But that it manages to stand out in a crowded Seattle field is a testament to its remarkable flavors. Family-owned and attractively appointed, the extensive menu offers newbies and Vietnamese food connoisseurs alike a smorgasbord of choices. Appetizers run the gamut from simple goi cuon salad rolls and satay skewers to more obscure hen xuc banh da -- crispy black sesame rice crackers topped with marinated clams. Specialty noodle soups take you on a journey from Northern Vietnam to Central, and then Southern Vietnam with bowls like bun mang ga (rice vermicelli with bamboo and chicken), bun bo hue, and, of course, pho. Rounding out the menu are rice plates, noodles bowls, and single-protein stir fries to be eaten family-style. At $35 for lunch and $42 for dinner, the seven-course, beef-focused feast is a carnivorous journey through a variety of red-meat preparations that's also one of the most affordable, and filling, tasting menus in the Emerald City.
Houston, Texas Since taking the reins of Saigon House shortly after Hurricane Harvey in late 2017, 30-year-old self-taught chef Tony Nguyen transformed a once-struggling eatery into the place to visit in Houston for inventive contemporary Vietnamese cuisine. Think Wagyu pho in rich oxtail broth, miniature banh xeo (Vietnamese savory crepe) tacos, and caramelized pork belly in clay pot, which sit on a well-rounded menu alongside Vietnamese Cajun crawfish and seafood dishes like the lip-smacking cua rang me (tamarind Dungeness crab). Lines form during peak hours and especially on weekends, but it’s worth the wait to experience one of Houston's most unique fusions of Vietnamese technique and Gulf bounty.
Westminster, California A beloved institution in Southern California’s Little Saigon enclave since it opened in 1981, Song Long represents the best of the OG of Vietnamese restaurants in the area. Serving generations of families for the better part of the last four decades, time practically stands still here. Co-founder Diep Lan Vo, now in her 70s, still greets every patron who walks through the door. Suong Tran, a waitress since the early '80s, is also a constant presence. The menu is French and Vietnamese (not fusion), a reflection of Vietnam’s history under French colonialism. And while French offerings like the assiette anglaise charcuterie plate and entrecote (ribeye) steak with garlic butter are very good, it’s the Vietnamese food that truly sets Song Long apart. The house specialty cha ca thang long, a Northern Vietnamese dish of turmeric-marinated fish topped with fresh dill and served on a sizzling plate, is phenomenal -- arguably the best in the US. Other Vietnamese classics that have stood the test of time? Try the cha gio Vietnamese egg rolls; com bi cha suon nuong rice plates topped with shredded pork, steamed egg, and grilled pork chop; and noodle soups like the bun suong (rice vermicelli soup with shrimp patties) or mi vit tiem (braised duck and egg noodle soup).
San Francisco, California One of the most significant Vietnamese restaurants of the last three decades, Slanted Door has the distinction of being a James Beard-winning restaurant helmed by a James Beard-winning chef. Situated in a prime location in San Francisco’s Ferry Building with sweeping views of the Bay Bridge, Charles Phan dishes up modern, stylish Vietnamese fare made with locally sourced and organic produce, with a wine list and craft cocktails to match. Start with the gau choy gau (shrimp and chive dumplings), the papaya salad, and the cellophane stir-fried noodles with crab. For your main, try a vermicelli bowl with wild-caught shrimp or lemongrass grilled pork and crispy imperial rolls. Better yet, go with a group and get the prix-fixe option. Intended for parties of two or more, you’ll get to choose from a selection of appetizers and entrees to mix and match to create a family-style meal to share. When you're at a place of this caliber, you want to taste as many things as you possibly can, even if it's just a bite from a friend's plate.
Gretna, Louisiana Generous portions, tasty food, and a jar of house-made nuoc cham on every table are just some of the reasons why NOLA residents flock to this West Bank spot for its Vietnamese fare. The extensive menu means that you can get your pho fix alongside memorable favorites like the grilled quail with sticky rice, chao tom grilled shrimp paste wrapped around sugar cane, or a vegetarian plate of deep-fried tofu topped with lemongrass sauce. For folks who like their Vietnamese with a little cajun flair there are also salt & pepper frog legs on offer, in addition to de xao lan -- goat simmered in curry -- for those who want to diversify their protein palates.
San Jose, California A South Bay stalwart since it opened its first location in 1985, Vung Tau serves up the kind of homey, classic Vietnamese food that people crave and come back for. Whether you come for noodle dishes like its hugely popular hu tieu ba nam sa dec (glass noodles topped with tiger prawn, snow crab, and pork), or order a smorgasbord of dishes to share family style, like goi sua tom thit (jellyfish, pork, and shrimp salad), thit kho tau (stewed caramel pork belly with egg), or tom cang kho tau (jumbo water prawns in garlic and fish sauce). The menu here is seemingly infinite. So, too, is this stalwart's ability to surprise and delight, whether you stick to something familiar or steer off into something you've never had.
Houston, Texas The oldest banh cuon (Vietnamese steamed rice noodle roll) house in Houston, Thien Thanh is also the surest bet when it comes to trying this Vietnamese delicacy. Opened continuously since 1993, owner Kim Ngo’s wife perfected a recipe for the roll’s rice-flour batter, earning the allegiance of generations of Houstonians, who flock to the restaurant for plates piled high with banh cuon stuffed with ground pork, wood ear, or grilled pork, and a tightly edited selection of Northern Vietnamese dishes ranging from cha ca (turmeric fish with dill) to bun rieu (crab and tomato rice vermicelli soup). Bring cash and prepare to feast. Mostly on banh cuon. For real: These things are the truth.
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Mai Pham is passionate about food, wine, and travel. One of the most active food and travel journalists in Houston today, she regularly contributes to publications ranging from Forbes Travel Guide to Texas Highways Magazine and Houston Modern Luxury. A true foodie femme, follow her culinary adventures on Instagram or Twitter @Femme_Foodie.