Being a province that is all too regularly described as “steak and potato country,” people might be surprised to know that Calgary has the highest number of Vietnamese restaurants per capita in North America, second only to Vancouver.
Edmonton isn’t far behind, meaning our Alberta metropolises boast plenty of fantastic Vietnamese restaurants. We should feel pretty lucky about that!
When it comes to deciding what to order at a Vietnamese restaurant, it’s always nice to have an expert’s opinion. Carmen Cheng and Patricia Lau, @foodkarmablog and @miss_foodie, aren’t just simply passionate food bloggers, but also two women who have made it their mission to discover the best dishes at Alberta restaurants.
Here, they dish on a few of their favourite menu items they’ve discovered at some of the most popular Vietnamese eateries in the province:
1. Pure Vietnamese
Char Siu Sesame Donut
It’s the perfect bite because it encompasses a great combination of flavours and textures – the melt-inyour-mouth tender pork contrasted by the crunchy pickled vegetables, adding in a cucumber between a crispy, yet fluffy (on the inside) sesame seed bun.
2. Raw Bar
Pork Imperial Rolls (Chả giò)
These may be a staple at most Vietnamese restaurants, and most of us are used to enjoying “spring rolls,” but when this dish comes rolling out at Raw Bar, it’s still impressive. The rolls are served on a beautiful platter with traditional accompaniments like lettuce, rice vermicelli, and herbs to wrap around the crispy fried pork spring rolls. These accompaniments add freshness and balance to the dish.
3. Pho Dau Bo
Oxtail Pho (only available on Saturdays and Sundays)
This is one of the few places in Calgary that you can find oxtail pho. The oxtail gives the soup a more rich and hearty beef flavour, and is perfect for a cold weather meal.
4. Nho Saigon
Jicama Salad Rolls (Bò Bía)
Unless you make these at home – which I do – Nho Saigon may be the only place in Calgary to get these fresh rolls. Compared to the typical salad rolls, Bo Bia are stuffed with shredded jicama, Chinese sausage, egg, and carrots, and served with a peanut dip. The combination of flavours and different textures makes this a fresher option than standard salad rolls.
5. Thi Thi Vietnamese Subs
There are a lot of banh mi spots in Calgary, but I doubt any are as busy or as tiny as the Thi Thi shop in Chinatown. Despite their size, this place makes my favourite Sate Beef Banh Mi in the city. The sweet sliced beef is sandwiched in a toasted baguette, and garnished as you like.
I always get it all – carrots, cucumbers, daikon, onion, thai chilies, cilantro, cheese, a squirt of fish sauce and their soy sauce mixture – I don’t know what it is about this place, but the way they assemble all of the ingredients is so delicious, and I always end up inhaling my sub in five minutes flat!
6. TNK Vietnamese
Vietnamese Crispy Crepe (bánh xèo)
I love this light and crispy Vietnamese savoury fried crepe at TNK. It’s made with coconut milk, rice flour and turmeric, and is stuffed with pork, shrimp, and sprouts. I like that you can really taste the coconut in this version, and the fact that this is not a dish commonly found at most Vietnamese restaurants. It is eaten wrapped in lettuce along with fresh herbs and dipped in a tangy nuoc cham sauce!
7. King Noodle House Pho Hoang
Phở đặc biệt (Special pho with all the meats – rare steak, well done beef flank, tripe, tendon, beef balls)
The broth recipe has been passed down through three generations and cooked for 12 to 15 hours to get a deep flavour. King Noodle has been in business 21 years so you know it’s good, plus this restaurant is well known for the owner who has an awesome handlebar moustache!
8. Tau Bay Restaurant
Pho Tai, Nam, Gan, Sach (with rare steak, well-done flank, tendon, and tripe)
The sweet meaty flavour is the prominent flavour in the broth at Tau Bay. I especially like that they give you five or six pieces of tendon in this bowl. This place is so popular, but be warned: if you get addicted to their pho, it may be disappointing when they take their summer breaks. There’s a website titled istaubayopen.ca because this restaurant is infamous for long closures during the summer while the family travels to Vietnam.