I waited for a blustery spring day to visit Vietnam Bakery, Portland’s newest Vietnamese restaurant, because there’s nothing like a big bowl of pho to take away the chill.
The bakery is located across from the Union Station Plaza Shopping Center, just a couple of doors down from Kim’s Sandwich & Cafe, which is known for its banh mi. The bright orange and yellow walls are accented with glass chandeliers that look a little out of place. There are four tables for four, and two tables for two, all outfitted with a basket of silverware and chopsticks, and hot and hoisin sauces in squeeze bottles.
A giant menu hangs on the wall behind the counter and the glass bakery case filled with Vietnamese baked goods. Individual menus were scarce because, the woman who served me explained, people (read: obsessed foodies) kept taking them, which was very frustrating for her because she hasn’t had a chance to have more printed. After I ordered, she allowed me to keep the menu to look at until another customer walked in, then it was snatched away.
Vietnam Bakery is much more than just a bakery. The menu has a decent selection of inexpensive appetizers such as spring rolls ($3 for two), chicken wings ($3.99 for four) and a selection of Vietnamese steamed sweet rice rolls. There’s a selection of rice vermicelli dishes with your choice of sliced pork, sliced beef and shredded pork skin (some include egg roll) for $6.95. There are rice plates with chicken, roast duck, pork belly and spare ribs for $7.25 to $7.95, and bowls of Vietnamese pork noodle soup prepared in a variety of ways for $6.95.
But I was here for the pho, Vietnamese rice noodles served with sliced beef, meatballs or both floating in hot broth ($6.95). I chose the Pho Dac Biet, the combination that included both beef and meatballs as well as slow-cooked tendon for just a dollar more. If you don’t want the tendon in the combo, my server explained, they’ll just add some extra meat to your bowl.
It didn’t take long for my bowl to come out, along with the traditional selection of garnishes on a small plate. Here, the garnishes were lime, bean sprouts, Thai basil and some sliced hot peppers. First I squeezed in a little lime, then added a little hoisin sauce before throwing in some sprouts, basil and peppers. It didn’t take long for the steaming broth to take the chill off the day.
The pho was good, though not the best I’ve had in Portland. I wasn’t able to finish the whole bowl because, well, pho always comes in ridiculously large servings that are hard to finish at lunchtime unless you start with a big appetite.
I was curious about the sweets behind the counter and decided to buy a couple to take home for later. There was a selection of sweet buns and sponge cake rolls filled with either strawberry or pineapple jam. A large tray of Banh Cam, Vietnamese sesame balls, had just been made that morning. I chose the sponge cake with pineapple, a fairly large roll that cost $3, and the sesame balls, which cost 2 for $1.50. The sponge cake was soft and not too sweet. I was expecting the filling to be ultra sweet, but it wasn’t heavy on the sugar and just tasted like finely chopped pineapple.
I’d like to watch them make the sesame balls sometime. They are perfectly round, and every last sesame seed appears to be in just the right place. Bite into them, and the outer shell is lightly sweet and softly chewy. Inside is another ball made of mung beans; the texture reminded me of powdered sugar when it’s been mixed with something else.
Vietnam Bakery also serves an interesting selection of smoothies for $3.50 each, and I’d like to go back and try some of these. There’s an avocado milk shake, a carrot milk shake, a smoothie made with red bean and coconut, and a green bean smoothie with coconut.
If you like Vietnamese food you should give this place a try.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: