Aug 292011
 

Update: Now called iPho Tower!

I don’t normally review chain restaurants on this blog, but as Mr. Ferruzza has pointed out, Pho Hoa is run much more like an independent restaurant. It fits nicely into the spectrum of Vietnamese joints on the near northeast side, and is perhaps a little hipper and more boisterous.

Exterior

Interior

Interior

The decor is not necessarily modern but it doesn’t incorporate the kitschy, old lady aesthetic that many Asian restaurants do. As many have noted, Pho Hoa is difficult to locate from the street, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped many people from finding it. My visits have found it quite busy, patronized by youthful Vietnamese, curious suburban whiteys, students from the nearby medical college and even some older folks. The sea of tables in the main dining room creates quite the upbeat atmosphere, as do the host of young employees who seem to share all duties, from hosting and sandwich-making to food running and bussing. One fairly clueless server with a poor grasp of English took our orders, but we were equally attended by other workers who delivered our drinks, appetizers and food, and others still who delivered our check and we found them quick and friendly.

The house special banh mi is quite delicious, although a little too sweet for my taste. Having tasted a similar version from Kim Long’s I find I prefer that sandwich.

Banh Mi

The namesake Pho was good, and featured the best treatment of tendon that I have ever tasted. We were disappointed not to see the accompanying plate of bean spouts and herbs that always come with Pho, undoubtedly an oversight due to the busyness of the place and the odd division (or lack of division) of labor.

Pho

The food all came out at different times, and the Pho was last, making it less desirable to ask for the accompaniments since we were already full. Indeed my partner received her drink almost immediately while I waited quite a while for my avocado shake. I made it through an order of spring rolls (they call them summer rolls) before I received it. The shake was only slightly sweet, but silky, rich and delicious. The avocado flavor was not particularly strong but I really enjoyed the beverage and would order it again. In general, I was a little disappointed at not receiving our dishes in any order that made sense.

Avocado Shake

Summer Rolls

Nothing at Pho Hoa struck me as being any better looking or tasting than other Vietnamese spots in Columbus Park. The selection of banh mi is a selling point for sure, but better Pho can be had almost anywhere else in town, particularly Hien Vuong in the City Market, Vietnam Cafe and Sung Son in Westport. I feel likewise about the spring rolls and the banh mi. But Pho Hoa does offer all these items under one roof and in a perfectly acceptable style.

Pho Hoa Noodle Soup on Urbanspoon

Kokoro Maki House: 340 W 75th St

 Posted by at 1:41 am
Dec 312008
 

I love counter service lunch spots. They are almost universally faster than full service restaurants, they tend to be more informal, and the food can still be excellent. But let me begin by stating what I think should be a self evident truth:

Ordering sushi from a counter, paying and then waiting for it to be delivered is just wrong.

No one waits on you, no one fills up the water glass, and you are not at the sushi bar chatting with anyone. You are just waiting. It is purely a capitalist exchange of goods for money.

Kokoro Maki House

Kokoro Maki House is way more lunch-oriented than any of the other sushi places I can think of. The menu is small and a lot of the sushi is served a la carte. But counter service prevails here, and it can be very difficult to choose what you want to order. Sushi involves lots of hard decision making and I always feel rushed at Kokoro, especially when there are people in line behind me. When getting sushi there I always feel like I miscalculated the amount I really need. Moreover, if you want something else after eating your food, you have to go up to the counter and order it, pay, then wait for it. I call bullshit on that. Sushi is a splurge food for me. I want to be waited on, and that’s that.

So recently I stopped back into Kokoro and saw something I had not noticed before: Korean dishes on the menu. Much like Cho-Ga Kokoro offers lunch boxes with a Korean entree and various accouterments including rice, dumplings, 2 pieces of maki, and a salad.

Kokoro Maki House

I know, I know these boxes are not authentic Korean, but damn it was delicious! The bulgogi was perfectly cooked, piping hot and the dumplings were little deep fried nuggets of delight. My partner’s Bi Bim Bop and accompanying kim chee looked damn good too. The pickled daikon was my favorite of the three. She claimed it was one of the best dishes of Bi Bim Bop she has ever tasted.

Kokoro Maki House

What’s more, they seem to care about presentation at Kokoro. Details like the little foil square beneath the dumplings, black sesame seeds atop the rice, and nori strips on the Bi Bim Bop indicate that these are folks who care about what they serve.

I have had the sushi here as well, and found it very good and affordable. But it has been at least a year since I tried it, so I can’t really say much more about it with any confidence.

The food does take a while to come out, even when they are not busy. This is perhaps the biggest drawback. What service they do have is fine, although the teenager at the counter was not particularly helpful and seemed more interested in texting than taking care of us. But generally I give teenagers a pass; their lives are annoying enough without some half-assed food blogger complaining about how they do their jobs.

These are great little affordable Korean lunch specials right in the heart of Waldo. For those who need the Korean fix without venturing into Johnson County, look no further than Kokoro.

Read more:

Kokoro Maki House on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Oct 082008
 

When I posted about the pedestrian but serviceable Rainbow Korean Restaurant earlier this year, a few commenters suggested I try Cho-ga across Metcalf. Not long after, I had lunch there with Meesha, the award-winning, benevolent Czar of the KC blogosphere and his delightful daughter. I think it’s fair to say that we were all pretty happy with the food–even the youngin’. I’ve made a repeat visit or two by my lonesome and have found the food to be quite consistent.

First of all, it’s located at 105th and Metcalf which is pretty much my definition of hell. Yeah I know, all I do is complain about the suburbs while consistently working, eating and spending my money there all the freakin’ time. I’m the worst kind of hypocrite. Anyhow, the shopping center that houses Cho-ga has not aged well (what shopping center does?), it has a drab color and a wan-looking cedar shake roofing. The center is comprised of several “islands” of shops, each surrounding a perfectly charming little courtyard. Some shops have entrances on the outside and some on the courtyard side.

Surprisingly it houses some pretty successful business, notably the OP version of D’Bronx which by most accounts is not as good as its 39th street counterpart. I also stopped by a business called “A Touch of Asia” because I was looking for…well you know, a touch of Asia. To my dismay I found it to be yet another JoCo Indian lunch buffet. I guess I’ll be back when I’m less hot and bothered.

Cho-ga is located at the East edge of the shopping center, and faces north. The interior is nothing special, a virtually undecorated mid-sized room containing a mix of tables and booths. This place get fairly busy at the height of lunch hour and the service is typically pretty mediocre. It took me at least 5 minutes to get seated on one trip, another time the waiter forgot my drink order, another time I waited insanely long to get my check. But of course, commenter Tze Yuin warned me about this so I was prepared. Yes this is the same gentleman woman who insisted I try the Chinese menu at Lucky Wok and I think he she is my new hero.

But the food at Cho-ga is excellent. As I’ve mentioned previously I am not an expert on Korean food, but the value, presentation and taste are all top-notch in my own humble, esteemed, infallible, totally kick-ass opinion.

The menu offers a number of things to choose from: beef, seafood, chicken, pork, soups and more. There is a regular lunch menu and a list of “lunch boxes” on the flip side. Here’s a terrible photo of the regular menu:

Menu

And the boxes…

Menu

I usually get the boxes because they are cute. I have eaten the pork, beef bulgogi and short ribs and they are all very tasty. The short ribs are sliced cross-wise and still attached to little pieces of bone, making them quite challenging to eat with chopsticks. But it’s worth it.

Galbi

In addition to the primary offering, lunch boxes come with steamed rice, two dumplings, a small portion of noodles, salad (mostly lettuce) cabbage kim chee, and a few slices of melon to calm the palate at the end of the affair. That’s a lot of food! Most of them run $8.95 so expect to pay a several dollars more with beverage and an unextravagant tip for subpar service.

Cho ga

So if you’re looking for Korean chow, go pay them a visit. You won’t be alone, you won’t be the only non-Korean there (assuming you know, that you’re not Korean) and the food is well worth it.

PS: Well crap, I just checked out the Pitch for info on Cho-ga and found a typically top-notch Charles Ferruzza review dated TOMORROW (Oct.9 2008). Ferruzza is bending the laws of space and time people! If this is not some mistake, there will be plenty of info about Cho-ga to go around. If only I had published this two months ago when I started it. Anyhow, read his take. I found Cho-ga somewhat less exotic, but I haven’t been for dinner. I don’t blog about dinner.

Read more:

Choga Korean on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Red Snapper (8430 Ward Pkwy)

 Posted by at 3:01 pm
Jun 022008
 

I couldn’t believe it when people started telling me this place was good. You know why?

The sign.

Tell me this doesn’t look like a pathetic Red Lobster rip-off joint. I mean, the font is even the same! Located just north of the Ward Parkway mall, Red Snapper sits in a newish, sterile and unappetizing strip mall that would be just as comfortable at College and Quivira. You know, the kind of place you might find, oh I don’t know, one of these?

But there I was this past week after a long hard morning looking futilely for a seersucker suit (guy at Dillard’s: “I haven’t seen one of those in 15 years!”). Since I don’t patronize creepy Christian chains or partake in food court schmutz, I wound up at Red Snapper.

Imagine my surprise when I walked in–no nautical themed murals, hanging fishnets or porthole-shaped windows. Instead I found a very classy place, tastefully decorated and airy. Two giant, round fishtanks sit right inside the front door which was a little alarming, but they are pretty cool.

The lunch menu is small, well-priced and reasonably varied. I hesitate to use the term “pan-Asian” not because it isn’t appropriate but more because I don’t really know what it means. No really, this place is totally pan-Asian. The dinner menu is much more extensive and interesting than the lunch menu. There are dishes familiar to those who enjoy Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food. Maybe even a little whiff of Korea as well.

Their specialty is, well, red snapper. They offer a crispy red snapper on the lunch menu and I went for it. There is also a panko fried halibut which looked appealing as well.

The snapper was delicious. It came with a thin, light and crispy batter. Moreover it was the whole filet–plenty to eat. Unfortunately it came atop a rather pedestrian stir-fry. The assortment of vegetables was fine but the sauce was the usual nebulous brown gravy thickened with cornstarch that you find at any two-bit Chinese restaurant. Kudos for all the fresh ingredients, though. The only thing canned was the baby corn which, predictably I loathe. Landfills all over the USA are choked with decaying tons of baby corn, discarded uneaten from the plates of Chinese restaurant patrons.

Red Snapper gets props for the full bar too, although I would prefer more Asian beers than Sapporo. So I had to settle for a Heineken, the BMW * of beers.

My lunch companion had a more conventional stir-fry dish with tofu which was basically the exact same vegetables and sauce that I had under the snapper.

My instinct here is that Red Snapper is probably a better place for dinner because the menu is so much bigger and the atmosphere lends itself better to evening forays. They probably do a decent lunch business from all the folks going to and from the mall, not to mention all the office buildings down that way. But they keep it very simple, which is fine.

So overall a nice experience, decent but not overwhelming food, and a perfectly fine option if you find yourself hankering for pan-Asian grub down on Ward Parkway.


* overrated, big in the 80s, purchased by assholes

Read more:

Red Snapper on Urbanspoon

Yelp

May 232008
 

We got a no-frills little Korean diner here that is the perfect joint for an informal lunch whilst running soulless, horrible shopping errands in the JoCo. Rainbow is located in that rambling and not particularly well-aging series of strip malls at Metcalf around 103rd. Directly across from the Sprawl-Mart. The restaurant itself is tucked back off the street in a smaller strip that includes a florist, liquor store, and a Jose Pepper’s Border grill and cantina.

For the record, I have never been, nor do i plan to ever eat at Jose Pepper’s Border grill and cantina. There is kind of a funny bio of the mythical Mr. Pepper on the front page of their website. But it only goes to prove that this place is about as Mexican as Chili’s. But they are local, which I didn’t realize. I’m thinking it’s like Taco John’s with beer. But believe me, I would LOVE to hear impassioned defenses of Jose Pepper’s on this blog. Why?

  1. Because I love when people love crappy places, it makes me me laugh. at them.
  2. Being unapologetic and self-deprecating about one’s tastes are attractive traits, and indeed are the hallmark of my generation.
  3. Sometimes I’m actually convinced.

Back to the matter at hand: a really drab, tiny little Korean lunch spot that sits down the walkway from Pepper’s. While the white people are down there eating deep fried tortillas filled with crap and covered in queso sauce, there are usually one or two tables of Korean folks enjoying a meal at Rainbow. Unfortunately for Mr. Rainbow, that’s usually about it. I’ve never seen the place even remotely crowded and I’ve been about 3 or 4 times.

Here’s where I fess up: I don’t know a hell of a lot about Korean food so I usually just guess at what sounds good. One time I went for something adventurous and wound up with a seafood stir fry in a black sauce made from what I can only assume was squid ink. Seriously. It was actually decently prepared but just not my personal taste or texture preference.

Yesterday I went safe and ordered bulgogi which is one of the more famous Korean dishes, along with Bi Bim Bop (which is great hangover food by the way).

Bulgogi is basically a beef and onion stir fry. Mine was really quite delicious and was accompanied by some steamed rice, and of course bok choy and daikon kim chi varieties. Korean food is really distinguished by its used of these pickled delicacies and really can’t be appreciated unless you partake. Korean dishes also have an affinity for the raw or lightly cooked egg which is another really great feature.

The atmosphere at Rainbow is…well…a little depressing. The booths came straight from an auction at a failed early 90’s Shoney’s restaurant and the decor is basically nonexistent.

However there is one highly entertaining and exciting exception: DORAEMON SAUCE BOTTLES! Who the hell is Doraemon? Shit I had no idea, but that’s what Google is for, unless you are some kind of creepy Japan-o-phile manga loving freak with a furry costume and some ilicit polaroids secreted in your mom’s basement. Anyhow, Doraemon is an insanely popular Japanese animated character who appeared in a series of 60’s-70’s cartoons. His charm and jaunty spriti quickly spread like wildfire across parts of Asia.

So every single table of the restaurant has a Doraemon-themed soy sauce bottle, rice vinegar bottle and matching tray. They are very informative as to who this Doraemon character is. The bottles read:

Doraemon the cat-like robot. he measures 129.3 cm around the belly. he was born on 3rd September 2112. He has many fantastic tools

Ok that explains it right? Well, check out the Doraemon episodes on Youtube, they are very inventive and funny. And he does have some crazy-ass tools.

Not sure if his birth in 2112 is related in any way to the most hilarious multi-part epic suite Canadian wackoids Rush ever made, but I’d be willing to guess that it is not. Doraemon would have a tool to destroy the Priests of Syrinx.

Back to lunch spots. Service here was extremely friendly and efficient. Kim Chi and water came out immediately, the food emerged lightening fast out of the kitchen and the bill was delivered as soonas I put the chopsticks down.

This is the only Korean place I’ve tried in the metro and I know there are others, so let’s hear about em.

Oh, and sorry for all the tangents, but you realize that rather than a restaurant blog, this is only a joke/humor blog, right?

Further reading: an more informed, discriminating and knowledgeable review over at Yelp

Read more:

Chung's Rainbow on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Blue Koi: Leawood Edition

 Posted by at 4:40 pm
Mar 012008
 

Mission road in Leawood is becoming 39th street west.

Part of the fun of Blue Koi is its 39th Street location. It gets busy as hell on weekends. I enjoy putting my name in, giving them my cell number and hopping across the way to DB Cooper’s for a half hour of cigarettes, PBR and burn-out psychodrama. After some dumpling and noodles at Blue Koi you can stroll over to Fric n Frac or some other little joint and have a cocktail or coffee or whatever. It almost feels like a real city for a minute. But wait, I’m supposed to be talking about lunch.

Now Blue Koi has a Leawood location, just south of 103rd on Mission road. Like its older sibling, it is very popular for lunch. Don’t know about dinner. It is located in one of these weird semi-occupied mixed use developments. I think it is called “Mission Farms,” probably because it used to be a farm before they sent the old guy away with a million dollar check for his land. Anyhow it’s like storefronts with condos on the upper floors. But it basically feels like you are driving into a condo development, complete with a sign welcoming you to Mission Farms. And several of the storefronts seem like they have yet to be leased. Apart from the restaurant, it is eerily quiet in the parking lot. You know, because everyone who lives there is at work trying to pay for these places. Whoever developed this area probably had big ideas about dwelling and retail coexisting, complete with platitudes about vibrant pedestrian orientated living. But basically, you live in a condo in the suburbs above an overpriced chinese restaurant and a no-count hair salon. I’d be surprised if Mission Road has an uninterrupted sidewalk down to the new Room 39, another transplant from 39th street.

Back to basics: Blue Koi is very good at what they do. The menu at the Leawood location is pretty much identical to 39th street and the quality is similarly top-notch.

For the uninitiated, Blue Koi is a noodle and dumpling house that focuses on quality ingredients and fresh, homemade preparation. For most menu items you can choose whether you want them in a noodle soup, or just with noodles (sans broth) or with rice. It’s a nice way to offer choice without going crazy. I think that it’s pretty safe to do anything on the menu, whatever you choose won’t ruin the experience.

As I said the food is very good in both locations, but the Leawood version is super business-lunch oriented in terms of clientele. The service at Leawood was also excellent. Just like 39th street, you can also sit at the bar and watch the chefs at work. While this would drive me crazy if I was one of the chefs, it’s kind of cool for diners. It’s like a people zoo.

I think this location is kind of a destination spot for JoCo corporate types who wouldn’t venture to 39th street to begin with. It’s very interesting when KC places duplicates their efforts in Johnson County, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I understand the need to expand, but it feeds into the whole mentality that Kansans are unwilling to head over to this side of the border. While many rant about it, I’m not sure it’s completely true. If there wasn’t a Blue Koi or a Bo Lings or a Room 39 in JoCo — if people were forced to come to KC to appreciate good food, would they come? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that I head over to Kansas frequently to eat food. Think Oklahoma Joe’s or Il Trullo or whatever floats your friggin boat.

Anyhow, Blue Koi is great, everyone should eat there. Get the Chinese Pot Roast–it’s subtle, delicately textured and delicious with noodles. Ants on a Tree is also delicious and very popular. The dumplings? also first-rate. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to hang out in a Leawood condo development, even for lunch.

Read more:

Blue Koi on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Maui Express: 8750 Santa Fe

 Posted by at 4:17 pm
Jan 182008
 

From the outside, this place has the aura of a failed attempt at chain fast food written all over it. And the name is confusing. All I know about hawaiian cuisine is that they bury whole pigs in firepits where they cook for hours on end. That sounds like a whole lotta delicious to me, but Maui Express is a storefront in an ugly strip mall next to a Mr. Goodcents.

Moreover, when you walk in the place, there is a white dude in a mall-bought Hawaiian shirt behind the counter. Now, this gentleman was very friendly and efficient, I really appreciate that. But he had that cult-like way of staring through you found among fundamentalist christians and nerdy white guys who only date quiet asian girls. I’m pegging this guy for both.

The menu at Maui Express is really small, and is definitively Japanese in orientation. That makes sense, given the history and ethnic composition of Hawaii. Foremost among the menu items are “bowls.” Basically these are Rice, steamed vegetable and the meat of your choice with a teriyaki sauce. Instead of white rice you can get noodles or brown rice. The prices are also exceedingly cheap –less than four bucks for the small bowl and under five for the large. Unless you get steak which increases the cost by 1.50 or so. Their motto is “eat healthy” so don’t get the friggin steak because they won;t know what the hell they are doing.

Anyway i ordered a large chicken bowl with brown rice. Everything was well cooked, including the rice. The vegetables, as promised were indeed steamed, but disappointing. You see, they really weren’t the best veggies for the job–carrots, zucchini, and a few broccoli florets. Carrots and zucchini? Really? What is this 1994? Perhaps this is some sort of traditional Japano-Hawaiian preparation that I’m not familiar with, but personally I don;t get real worked up over steamed carrots and zucchini. They also aren’t the best vegetables for you, compared to most others. At least there was no green pepper which would have made me puke.

Chicken teriyaki bowl

Overall the food was very good, particularly the chicken which had been grilled, unlike the rest of the bowl. This provided a nice contrast of textures and flavors. The portion was very good as well. I didn’t finish it all and even struggled to polish off all the chicken in light of my lack of zucchini enthusiasm.

The best part of the whole restaurant, however, was the music. yes the lush strains of Hawaiian music filled the air for my entire stay and I imagine all the live long day. This was a great touch, but unkind to employees. That would drive me insane–try listening to Hawaiian slide guitar for 8 hours straight. I could maybe make it through 4 hours and only if I was drinking.

So in summary, Maui Express is weird. Certainly not a “destination” lunch spot. But if you are hungry and passing through the OP, or if you work nearby and tire of Arby’s bacon and cheddar melts, go for it.

Read more:

Maui Express on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Dec 272007
 

UPDATE: THE NOODLE SHOP HAS CLOSED AS OF 6/16/2008. READ MORE ABOUT IT.

This new-ish neighborhood spot is nestled in a small string of shops just west of Rockhill road. I actually think the block-long strip mall is one of the early JC Nichols projects, but I could be mixing it up with someplace else. Anyhow, the location is great, mostly because this residential area between main and troost really needs some more interesting places to eat. Noodle Shop is just far enough away from UMKC that it will likely attract more professorial types who live in the area south of the campus, rather than students. But it might be a nice change of pace from Einstein’s, Planet sub and Kin Lin which are the sad options for the struggling student.

I was really pleased to see that this is a noodle shop in the purely asian style. I despise those places that specialize in all things noodles–spaghetti, asian, mac and cheese–it’s just silly. Thankfully this place is a real restaurant, run by people who know what they are doing, and do it well. The menu is short and simple: Pickles and noodles. The pickles come in a variety of permutations, from cucumber pickles, to traditional kim chee, to daikon radish. They all have a distinctive appeal and are clearly homemade.

As for noodles, you can concoct your own assemblage from the list of ingredients or choose a specialty. The menus are essentially checklists, you just check off what you want, hand it to the server and they put it together for you. The best part of the whole experience is sitting at the counter and watching the guys assemble the meals. The two giant vats in which they cook noodles are always in action, and the chef in constantly running around slicing and dicing various ingredients that seem exotic but probably aren’t.

As far as I can tell, Noodle Shop does not have a grill or an oven. I think all the cooked ingredients are steamed, boiled, poached or similarly prepared. This is somewhat of a downer since grilled meats go so well with noodle dishes. But the pot roast style beef I had was delicious, almost the equal of the comparable noodle place Blue Koi. The pork and chicken have consistencies that may not be immediately pleasing to the palate, but if you just roll with it, you won;t be disappointed.

The chalk board behind the counter lists a dizzying array of condiments available for your dining pleasure. Everything from sriracha to yellow mustard to fish sauce to stuff I’ve never heard of are represented. There must be 20 condiments. Wow.

The best part of the whole experience is the laid-back and friendly atmosphere. The staff is extremely helpful and efficient. They are more than willing to explain various dishes, and food comes out quite quickly. The space is small and tasteful, certainly not over-pretentious. The clientele is the usual assortment of Brookside lame-o’s. As the review over at Give in to Temptation put it “the place was peppered with 30-somethings that looked like they had money.” I concur. I was the 30-something without money sitting at the counter.

Anyhow, this formerly useless strip mall is now a place where I will actually go from time to time. It’s the sort of spot that probably needs some help getting off the ground and staying viable, but if they get a liquor license any time soon, I can help them out with that.

Vietnam Cafe: 522 Campbell

 Posted by at 6:15 pm
Sep 062007
 

This is a great little Vietnamese place, nestled somewhat off the beaten track in Columbus Park, just east of River Market. For downtowners, this is too far to walk for a quick lunch jaunt, but would be a relatively easy drive or bike ride.

Vietnam Cafe

There are no frills here, and frankly I don’t want them. One jackass on CitySearch went here for his birthday dinner: guess what, he didn’t like it. Go to Sung Son in Westport if you want atmosphere and alcohol for twice the price. Vietnam cafe has something Song Son doesn’t: people. Have you noticed that place is never full? Weird. Anyway, despite its uninspired decor Vietnam Cafe does a very nice lunch business. The staff is friendly and attentive, and food is served quickly, without flourish.

The menu features everything you want in Vietnamese place: Spring Rolls, Pho, Bun, Com Da and Salads and it’s all good.

Bun with beef

Vietnam Cafe

For those of you familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, this is a must-go type of place. For those who aren’t, go back to your hot pockets and gas station fried chicken.

Fried sweet potatoes

The experience here is a little more laid back than Hien Vuong in the Market which is akin to eating lunch in your Vietnamese neighbor’s garage. I don’t care for the term “people watching” but if that’s your bag, this is a good place for it.

I am starting to realize that some KC folks are not particularly adventurous eaters, which is amazing considering the processed, packaged crap they serve at places like Sonic and Chili’s. I know what you’re saying: “but hey, those fried chicken, mashed potato and velveeta bowls they have at KFC are awesome!” Well, I’d rather have a fly in my soup than a mouthful of antibiotics, synthetically produced aromas, and red dye #12. Not to mention the preposterous combinations some of the chain restaurants devise. Applebee’s, Fridays and the like always find a way to combine steak, bacon, melted cheese and creamy sauce in one dish, it’s really out of control. Places like Vietnam Cafe don’t test their dishes in laboratories, they have been tested by a thousand or so years of inventive, discerning and very hungry people. I’m not a hippie, it’s just silly that people think Vietnamese food is “weird” when they will feed their children hot dogs from Target.

Despite this sentiment I detect among KC (and JoCo) populace, the success of BBQ in the city is testament enough to the fact that people will indeed support their local neighborhood hole in the wall when they see others doing it, and if there is a reason to be proud of it. KC doesn’t have enough of these places.

Read more:

Vietnam Cafe on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Hien Vuong Vietnamese Restaurant

 Posted by at 2:34 pm
Jun 192007
 

I came here once a couple years ago before I moved to Kansas City. Let me tell you, having a decent Vietnamese restaurant is a big selling point as far as I’m concerned. KC has at least three that I can think of: Hien Vuong, Saigon 39 and the underrated Sung Son in Westport.

Hien Vuong–I always refer to it as “the Vietnamese place in the city market”–does a very nice mid-week lunch trade in spite of its somewhat drab atmosphere. Basically it feels like you are eating in someone’s garage. Which, face it, you kind of are. The most interesting aspect of eating here is the possibility that the restaurant will be crowded enough for the “hostess” to seat you with complete strangers. Like many old school lunch spots, they have a couple big tables that are meant to be shared. That being said, it’s really no big deal, it’s not like anyone talks to me. In general the Hien Vuong is small enough that you may have to wait for a table to open up if you pop in at noon.

And be advised, the woman who runs the show here has an off-putting demeanor and is not necessarily welcoming in the manner most of us are accustomed. I do not think that she is a grumpy person at heart, but perhaps comes across that way more than she should. She generally does the seating and clearing of tables while another person waits tables. You generally won’t a get a check delivered to your table, just go pay at the counter and the server will handle it.

The food here is humble in appearance but very tasty. The staples of Vietnamese cuisine such as Pho, Bun and the ubiquitous Vietnamese spring rolls are represented and they do not disappoint.

Hien Vuong Restaurant

Hien Vuong Restaurant

Certainly a classier joint like Sung Son takes full advantage of the visual potential of these foods, but Hien Vuoung simply throws the stuff in a bowl and turns you loose.

The menu is enormous and often includes a list of seasonal specials. During the winter you can get interesting dishes like dumpling soup, which I don’t normally associate with Vietnamese cuisine.

Hien Vuong Restaurant

Like most sit-down places, this lunch spot is not geared to the lone diner. For reasons that I will deftly avoid, I find myself eating solo much of the time. If I forget to bring a book or don’t want to bother, hate feeling self-conscious. Basically, I am content just staring into space but some restaurants make me feel uneasy when eating alone, and I’m not sure I can explain why. After all the real genius of the coffee shop is not its role as a social center, but its ability to cater to people on their own. In other words, it’s fine to go get a cup of coffee and read the paper by yourself, but lunch is a different matter. By the way, why do I see no one reading in this town? Other places I’ve lived, a lot of folks read on their lunch hours. Well, I’ll conduct a more thorough investigation before denouncing Kansas City for yet another shortcoming.

KC needs more spots like Hien Vuoung: a place where you get your silverware from a cup on the table, a place where you feel comfortable sitting inside on outdoor furniture, a place where remnants of the previous diner’s meal may be evident when you sit down, a place where you may be seated next to a total stranger. This is the essence of lunch, because the food is good and it’s no bullshit. Actually, I’ve had better Vietnamese cuisine, but you can’t ask for any more from a lunch place.

Read more:

Hien Vuong on Urbanspoon

Yelp