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.




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.


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

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Cafe Song: 7425 Quivira – CLOSED

 Posted by at 5:02 pm
May 052008

Cafe Song is now closed

Cafe Song is another entry in a rather impressive cadre of quality Vietnamese restaurants in the KC metro. I will say, however, that it is not my favorite among them.

Located near Quivira and 75th in a strip mall, it can be somewhat difficult to locate from the road. But it is a fairly sizable space with attractive, modern, but casual decor. I’ve been two times now and the place has been frighteningly empty on both occasions. The whole shebang appears to be staffed by two people: a youngish waiter with a pony tail (bad move dude) and a Vietnamese woman who does the cooking.

The menu attempts to be a little classier and more interesting than more traditional Vietnamese spots. There are at least 5 kinds of Ban Mih (basically a sandwich), but only a couple kinds of Pho (noodle soup) and Bun (cold noodle salad). They also feature wacky offering like meatball subs and hamburgers, and no, this is not the kids menu I’m talking about. The food is good here, but I’m not touching their meatball sandwich with a ten foot pole.

The food is good enough, but presentation and portions are a tad lacking. Pho comes with a whole assortment of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, lime wedges, etc. which is pretty typical. But the Bun dishes, usually accompanied by lovely piles of ground peanuts, shredded carrots, bean sprouts, meat, mint/cilantro, is merely a bowl of noodles with some shredded carrots and meat. Oh yeah, there is also some dried garlic sprinkled throughout which is actually an excellent addition.

So basically, it looks more like $5 meal than a $9 one.

For my money, Vietnam Cafe, Sung Son and Hien Vong are all better options. But for Johnson County, are there other Vietnamese gems out there?

So, basically underwhelming. I’ve put off reviewing this one for a while because there’s just not a lot to say either negatively or positively. I’m not one of those people who has something great to say about every meal I eat, not something bad to say for that matter. Cafe Song is nice, but I just don’t get real jazzed up about the prospect of going back often. It is not a good space to be a lone diner because it is so quiet and there’s nothing to look at except people walking into Starbucks and Planet Sub across the street. But maybe with a small group it would be more interesting.

All this being said, I’m really happy to see how many Vietnamese places there are, even in the reaches of Johnson County. I don’t think I’ve come close to visiting them all, but I will try.

Read more:

Cafe Song on Urbanspoon

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


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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


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