On The Menu

What To Order At A Vietnamese Restaurant


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Ever been to a restaurant and you look at the menu and are completely terrified/confused at to what to order? Since you don't know what's good and are too afraid to just point to a table next to you and order what they are having, you end up ordering something that is familiar even though it might not be something the restaurant (or cuisine) is known for. I believe this happens a lot at Vietnamese restaurants, because I see items like Pad Thai and Chicken Fingers and Pork Fried Rice on menus. While it's not bad to order something just to be safe, don't you want to order something that the cooks in the back are more likely to make for themselves? Or maybe you are just curious about Vietnamese food and want to know what some good dishes are to order. Here's a little guide to help you along.


Probably the most popular item at any Vietnamese place. It's the greatest noodle soup ever, at least in my mind. Perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It's simply just rice noodles in a chicken or beef broth with some onions and meat of your choice. Served with bean sprouts, mint leaves, lime, chili sauce and hoison sauce, it's the most personable meal in the world. No one eats their pho the same way as anyone else. You add whatever you want and slurp it down. (Don't be afraid to slurp, it's not considered rude. In fact, the more slurping the better.) For the meat, Pho Ga is simply Chicken Noodle Soup. Pho Bo is the beef version, but you can get different types of beef cuts. For example, Pho Tai is rare flank steak that is cut very thin. You can tell the quality of a Vietnamese restaurant by how rare the meat is when it comes out to your table. The broth is so hot that it cooks the meat when you mix it all up right before you eat it. The rarer it is, the better it is. If you don't like to see rare meat in your noodles, you can order Pho Chin which is well done beef. Bo Vien is beef meatball and you can have it alone in the pho or add it to any other Pho Bo choice. I normally do and I judge most restaurants by how many meatballs I get. For a $1 or $2 more per bowl, I like it if I have more than 4 pieces of Bo Vien. If you are feeling adventurous or just love various types of beef, get Pho Dac Biet, which basically is the kitchen sink in Pho Bo. You get tripe, tendon, flank, brisket, tripe and bo vien all in your bowl. This can also be called Xe Lua, which literally translates into "Large Train" in Vietnamese. This is the XL, or extra-large bowl size. If this little write up on Pho still confuses you, a better write up can be found here.


Of course, everyone has heard of Cha Gio (Egg Rolls). The Vietnamese version are normally smaller and thinner than the Chinese versions, but made in the same way. A filling of pork, mushrooms, rice noodles, carrots and other vegetables are placed inside a wrapper and rolled up and deep fried until crispy gold, brown and delicious. These are normally served with lettuce, pickled carrots and Nuoc Mam, fish sauce. I like to wrap the lettuce around the egg roll, add some of the pickled carrots and dip into the nuoc mam. If you are afraid of the nuoc mam (and I know it doesn't smell like the greatest thing in the world; be sure not to spill some on your clothes.) Just eat the egg roll plain or try the Goi Cuon (Spring Rolls) which are served with a peanut flavored dipping sauce. The spring rolls are shrimp and/or pork rolled into rice noodle wrappers with some lettuce, rice noodles and some mint.

Banh Xeo is a fried crepe dish that can be a meal for one person or an appetizer for multiple people. Shrimp, pork, bean sprouts are pan fried in a crepe batter and flipped over like an omelet. Similar to the egg rolls, lettuce and pickled carrots and nuoc mam are served with it and the banh xeo can be wrapped up and eaten with your hands.

Bun and Com (Rice)

I put bun and com into the same categories because they are served basically the same way, except one is in a bowl and the other is on a plate. Bun is rice noodles and com is rice. You can order Bun Thit Nuong, which has grilled meat (either chicken, pork or beef) served over the rice noodles that lies in a bed of veggies (carrots and lettuce mainly). A side bowl of nuoc mam comes with it that you can add however little or much you would like. Mix it all up and eat. I normally like to add a Cha Gio to my order, which means that the restaurant will add an egg roll that is cut up into 3 or 4 bite sized pieces and added to the bun. Com Thit Nuong is basically the same thing, except the meat is not cut up into smaller peices. So normally you'd get a grilled pork chop served over a bed of white rice.

Banh Hoi

Let's say you like both the Bun Thit Nuong and the Goi Cuon, but can't decide which one you want. Well, you can order the Banh Hoi. Basically, it's the Vietnamese version of fajitas. You get rice noodle wrappers, a bowl of hot water, a plate of cooked chicken or pork or shrimp, and some rice noodles and veggies. You dip the rice noodle wrapper into the hot water, lay it on your plate, add some meat and veggies and rice noodles and roll it all up. Dip it into some nuoc mam and you are all set. Very simple and a fun meal to order for a group of people to try it out. Remember, Vietnamese food is not fine cuisine dining. It's slurp, get messy, talk to your friends and enjoy your meal dining.

Family Style Options

Whenever I used to eat out with my family, my dad would order 4 or 5 different dishes and some white rice. This is a great way to try out different Vietnamese items and it again is a much more fun option than everyone having their own dish. Here are some of the dishes I love to order: Bo Luc Lac, cubes of beef sauteed in fish sauce, Canh Chua, a Vietnamese sour soup made with seafood and pineapple, Tom Rang Mua, fried shrimp (with head on of course) in a salty spicy covering, and Ca Kho To, fish cooked in a clay pot.

So there you have it. A quick little guide to ordering Vietnamese food. And don't stop at just the dishes I've listed, try whatever sounds good too, or ask your waiter what they think is good. Or, if you are still afraid to order something different, just got the Banh Mi. You can never go wrong with a good sandwich. (You do know what banh mi is, right?)


Pho and spring rolls are my favorite!!!!