Bun bo hue is one of the myriad noodle soups of Vietnam I had only read about, and hankered for from afar, because of blogs like noodlepie.
Red Pepper, on Maple Road, has bun bo hue on its menu, and I sank into a bowl of it as swiftly as possible. But I was disappointed in its version. The broth was more flavorful than Red Pepper’s pho - but to me at least, that is faint praise.
Then last week, after getting some cash from the First Niagara Bank on Niagara Falls Boulevard, I spotted a sign taped in the window of a place that used to be a generic Chinese takeout.
Pho Saigon, 1551 Niagara Falls Blvd., (834-8889) is run by a Vietnamese family. I didn’t catch the guy’s name, but he’s taking orders, his wife is overseeing the kitchen, and their sweet little boy is peeking at customers.
A look at the menu instantly made clear I have some eating to do here. A relatively full-featured Vietnamese restaurant has opened in Western New York, and I’ll do what I can to help this one stay open.
Now, there are places that have Vietnamese dishes, and there’s 99 Fast Food, which has an excellent but limited menu.
But here’s your roasted quail, your frogs legs with lemongrass, hot and sour bamboo, claypot baked fish, and canh chua bong lau, which is hot and sour catfish soup. Classics in Vietnamese places I’ve been to elsewhere that you don’t see much, if ever, in these parts.
I chatted to the guy a bit. Turns out he’s been here for about eight years, but just opened a few weeks ago. His wife’s mom is from Hue, Vietnam’s ancient imperial city. A fact that only became meaningful after I asked what the men at the next table were enjoying so much.
“Brisket soup, spicy,” he said.
“You mean bun bo hue?” I asked hopefully. “It’s not on the menu.”
“You know bun bo hue?” he said, surprised.
After I was done explaining (“No, but I sure would like to make its acquaintance”), he explained that the menus were wrong and were being replaced shortly. They have bun bo hue.
It’s different from pho because the broth is usually simmered with lemongrass and shrimp paste. It’s meaty, spicy and a touch sweet, all at the same time. Slices of tender brisket and chewier pieces of beef lurk in the depths of the bowl with spaghetti-like noodles, all swathed in a veil of fragrant steam.
Instead of the normal pho accompaniment of bean sprouts and holy basil, bun bo hue comes with a plate of shredded cabbage, chopped cilantro stem and leaf, plus the usual sliced jalapeno and lime wedges.
The stout crunch of the sweet sabbage against the spicy tang of the broth makes this a stunner, no two ways about it. Six bucks for a small, too, but there is bad news: Only available weekends, unlike most of the rest of the menu.
I suspect I’ll have more to say about this place later. Oh, they have pho ga – chicken noodle soup – and hu tieu nam vang, or pork noodle soup.
Look like I’ve got my work cut out for me.