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With a four-page lunch menu stacked with southeast Asian staples, you would think that Saigon Café has Vietnamese cuisine down to a science. But in some cases the kitchen could use a refresher course. Exhibit A: the beef pho, which lacked the signature meaty punch, not to mention the de rigueur fixings. Whither the customary plate of limes, bean sprouts, jalapeños, and fresh herbs? Exhibit B: the bun, which was watery despite its hyper-fresh vegetables. That’s the bad news. The good news? This bright, spacious café is still a worthy lunch contender. Quick, friendly service, a sidewalk patio, and a handful of standout dishes go a long way to right these wrongs.
The Vietnamese crepe (banh xeo), a rice flour, turmeric, and scallion pancake stuffed with chicken and shrimp, is enough to get you through til supper. The rice platters are reminiscent of brunch—think omelettes topped with stir-fried peppers, onions, and your choice of protein, with a side of spicy sauce. If you’re craving veggies, try the stir-fried egg noodles, a colorful mess of broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, and snow peas in a piquant lemongrass sauce. And while it’s hard to pass on the always-half-off sushi, it’s even tougher to decide between the 45 options. For maximum flavor and texture, you can’t miss with the Hyde Park roll (spicy tuna, cucumber, avocado, and tempura crunch flakes). For dessert, skip the sweets and order the Vietnamese coffee—swirled with sweetened condensed milk, served over ice, and guaranteed to perk you up for that long afternoon slog back at the office.
Saigon Café, 3672 Erie Ave., East Hyde Park, (513) 871-7999, saigoncafe-cincinnati.com
Originally published in the May 2014 issue.