My love affair with Vietnamese cuisine began when my girlfriend’s sister attended college in Cambridge, MA. She discovered, and soon shared with us, a Vietnamese restaurant in Harvard Square, then called Pho Pasteur. The food was fresh, healthy, had great flavors (but was not spicy) and it was cheap – fill your stomach for 7 or 8 bucks kind of cheap. I was hooked! I love to try new things, so I worked my way through their menu discovering many new favorites.
Fast forward to today. I’m always on the lookout for good, inexpensive eats in my favorite city, so it’s only natural that I began working my way through the Vietnamese restaurant offerings in Las Vegas. I’ve tried many of the fine Vietnamese restaurants up and down Spring Mountain, and many are very good. However, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Las Vegas is located in a strip mall at 7175 West Lake Mead Blvd.
Viet Bistro is a small mom n pop restaurant with just a few tables. Unlike other Vietnamese restaurants that I frequent, I often see other non-Asian patrons there. The general rule of thumb with ethnic restaurants is that if most of the clientelle matches the ethnicity of the restaurant, then the food must be good. This restaurant renders that “logic” worthless.
The food is excellent. Everything I have tried there has been delicious. The reason I believe there are so many non-Asian diners there is the service. The owner and chef, Kevin, also makes time to interact with customers front of house, and always makes me feel welcome. Kevin is an expert at making his food approachable. The menu is primarily in English, with the translated Vietnamese names in small print below. Traditionally spicy dishes are prepared mild, with the spice on the side. He will suggest substitutions to suit your taste, and he pays attention to what you like, so that he can tailor his suggestions to your tastes.
Dining in his restaurant is like visiting a friend – A friend who is an excellent cook. When Kevin is up front making all of his customers feel at home, his sister keeps the kitchen running, preparing the restaurant’s amazing food.
Despite the prominent “Pho” advertised at the front entrance, the restaurant’s specialty seems to be “Hue Style Spicy Beef Noodle Soup” (Bun Bo Hue), a noodle soup with deep, flavorful broth, lemongrass, tender meats, cliantro and green onion. Fresh sliced peppers, lemongrass and sprouts are served on the side. It’s a large hearty bowl of soup that will fill you up for a mere nine dollars. For those familiar with pho, this noodle soup is similar, but uses a different (softer, white) style of rice noodle. Viet Bistro also offers Pho dishes of course, in many varieties like shrimp, oxtail, even filet mignon!
Another standout is the Vietnamese Beef Carpaccio Salad (Go Bo Tai Me), with thin sliced rare beef over shredded cabbage and other fresh vegetables, topped with carrots and onions; all smothered in a brown (tamarind?) sauce. I’ve shared this $9.50 appetizer with my girlfriend on three separate occasions and it is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes that I have tasted anywhere. I really recommend you give it a try! Next time we go I’m ordering one all to myself.
The vermicelli bowls (Bun) are fantastic as well. A large bowl is filled with warm rice pasta, fresh vegetables (sprouts, carrot, lettuce, cucumber, green onion, mint) and topped with chopped peanuts, meats, fish and/or spring rolls depending on which bun you choose. Fish sauce and peppers are served on the side. The first time I dined at Viet Bistro, the staff offered to make my bun with beef, which is how I often order it, but was not on the menu at the time. The result was amazing, simply the best bun I have had anywhere, and it has since been added to the regular menu – Grilled Beef Bun (Bun Bo Nuong). The bun prices vary from $8 to $10.50 depending on the toppings you choose.
- If you are new to Vietnamese cuisine, you may need to get used to fish sauce. This is a common component of Vietnamese dishes and it has a very nice flavor, but the scent takes a little getting used to. If the scent bothers you, just try to ignore it and enjoy the food. Getting past this initial hurdle opens the door to many delicious dishes. It’s worth it.
- Most Vietnamese food is mild, and peppers are offered on the side so you can season to taste. If you find that your dish has become too spicy for you, the Vietnamese iced coffee (made with sweetened condensed milk) tastes great and does a good job of cutting the spice.
- If you have concerns about specific ingredients or the level or spice, or even if you don’t see your favorite Vietnamese dish on the menu, don’t be afraid to ask. I have found Viet Bistro to be very accommodating.
Note: This post was updated on Nov 23, 2012 to correct inaccuracies regarding the relationship and roles of the owner and staff.