Expedient and knowledgeable service is a hallmark of four-year-old Huong’s Vietnamese Bistro, a nondescript spot squirrelled away down a side street in Chinatown. Co-owner Dung Kim Luu can usually be found working the floor, while his wife, chef-owner Huong Thanh Thi Nguyen, holds down the kitchen. Nguyen, a self-taught chef and former Chinatown waitress, features homestyle Vietnamese fare on her menu.
A white-board of rotating specials focuses on Northern Vietnamese fare in particular.
Huong’s is the home of expertly glazed meats, such as the barbecue quail appetizer. The exceptionally crispy birds are deep fried, grilled and lightly coated in a sweet sauce fragrant with lemongrass. A giant, crispy rice-flour pancake is folded over tender bean sprout and shrimp stuffing. It’s meant to be cut up and bundled in leaf lettuce with aromatics and pickles. The last step is dunking the package in a thin, saline fish sauce–based dip called nuoc cham.
Equally delicious with nuoc cham are a variety of spring rolls — the moist and meaty pork-filled ones are particularly good. Huong’s pho broth stands out as well-skimmed, onion-rich and authentically beefy — no bouillon shortcuts here. Luu says “huong” means “perfume” in Vietnamese. The aromas of star anise and cinnamon coming off the broth certainly live up to this name.