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Best of Columbus: Vietnamese Food

Every time I drive down Bethel Road, it seems a new eatery is added to the bevy of existing cafes, sushi-bars, korean BBQs, etc. Bethel has slowly become Columbus’ own ‘Restaurant Row’. There are still shitty chains like KFC, Wendy’s, Popeyes – but among these ubiquitous houses of blech stand some of the best cuisine spots in Columbus. One of these fine establishments, nestled in the back of Bethel Shopping Center,  is Lac Viet (located here).

The menu at Lac Viet is concise and delicious. Appetizers include the yummy Goi Cuon – paper-thin spring rolls with skinny strips of carrots, refreshing cilantro, crisp bean sprouts with tasty shrimp, or pork. If you’re going for lunch or dinner there’s the fresh, and tasty Banh Mi Ga/Bo – what owner Thang Nguyen calls ‘dip and sip’ – chicken/beef (or lamb) in a toasted french bread (baguette) sandwich with a bowl for dipping, a direct influence on Vietnamese cuisine from years of French occupation. On special occasions Thang whips up creamy, mouth-watering (cholesterol wrecking) duck pâté and offers to spread on the Banh Mi sandwiches, or just plain toasted bread.

But where are the pictures of this food? I’ll be honest, my objectivity gets chucked out the window in regards to Lac Viet’s Pho (pronounced fuh), the reason I’m writing this piece. Pho (specifically Thang’s) is a soul replenishing, hot-brothed, ambrosiac noodle and meat soup good for any season, or time of day. Thang refers to  it as the ‘hangover-buster’ and plans on using this as a selling point when opening a food truck mid-April ($5 for a large container of Pho, tentative location: West 3rd and Gay St.). If you are hung over, slough over to Lac Viet sporting dark, arc welder sunglasses, get some Pho, add in a lot of Sriracha or the house chili sauce,  drink some Vietnamese coffee, and you’ll be set straight  even if you’re having a very John McClane sort of day.

Welcome to the party, pal.- John McClane ‘Die Hard’

Even if you’re not suffering from lack of moderation, be warned: Lac Viet’s Pho varieties are hearty, healthy and highly, highly addictive. I’m talking 2 a.m. cravings here. I tell Thang about the addictive powers of the brothy goodness, asking him what magical, pharmaceutical-grade narcotic is in the broth, and he just laughs – saying very matter-of-fact, with deserved pride – it’s just the best in Columbus, and the most nutritious. I’ve had Pho across the US, even tried some in the UK and Europe; in my opinion he’s being extremely modest with merely ‘best in Columbus’.

Pho King Good!

Thang’s Chili Sauce. Thumbs up.

I stopped in Lac Viet to curb my PCDTs (Pho Craving Delerium Tremens), and to take a couple of photos for the blog. A group of eight women were waiting patiently outside before opening time, so I started chatting it up with their ‘leader’ – poet, chef,  and local Clintonville staple, Bashka Jacobs. She tells me their ladies lunch group travels around Columbus each week in search of new and exciting foods. Having lived in India for thirty plus years, Bashka’s attuned to great Asian/South Asian cuisine, intuitively gravitating towards the best local spots. I mention this ladies group because I wish more people formed food-adventure clubs like Bashka’s in Columbus, and mostly because I kind of want to join in on their weekly fun. Perhaps I could pull off a Mrs. Doubtfire sort of persona to encroach the club, but how do I explain the beard…? Cue proper Aerosmith song.

Bashka and Thang

Thang with the incredibly nice lunch group. 

The ladies love the food, and Thang loves the ladies (not in that way). He greets the group with the same openness he does for every customer, asking each new patron what kind of food they like/don’t like to narrow down choices to their tastes. Thang loves being the host; loves Columbus; loves making and talking about food in general – always suggesting the best hidden spots in the area for lunch (outside Lac Viet, of course) or dinner. His care for the customers goes beyond amiability to the ‘behind the scenes’ as Thang refuses to use MSG at his establishment, and makes a coordinated effort to use recyclable ‘to-go’ containers. Bellies and the environment are mutually satisfied.

Meals are cheap, the most expensive Pho is the lamb at $8, but you get a giant bowl like the one Bashka’s eating out of in the picture above, and you can take the rest home for when the cravings hit you later that night; guaranteed they will. Thang’s my (Pho) dealer, make him yours too. C’mon, you know you want to try some. – Mike

[ 89% approval rate on Urban Spoon LINK. Voted best breakfast by Nick from the amazing blog Breakfast with Nick LINK]

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. this post is awesome, mike. and i even felt like i got a little flavor of colombus while reading it. it’s funny because wifesy and i go to a noodle house in downtown LA (little tokyo), called mr. ramen and the stuff looks almost exactly like that. it is friggin’ delicious. we get the veggie miso ramen, spicy, and it’s super cheap (like $10, unheard of pricing in LA) and ROCKS. very cool to know there’s a little slice of something like that in columbus. i wonder what the difference is between pho and japanese ramen because man, they look the same! anyway, great post. i really enjoyed reading it. – sm

    April 2, 2012
    • Thanks, Moms! I’ll definitely check out that noodle house next time I’m in LA – will pass along the info to all my friends out there, see if they’ve been.
      Columbus is surprisingly diverse when it comes to food/people/culture. The cow-town capital moniker cracks me up, as it’s a very cool, trendy, up-and-coming hot-spot city. And it’s cheap! (said the guy who moved to columbus from nyc).
      I know pho might be slightly healthier compared to ramen, but aside from that, they’re about the same, and both scrumptious.

      April 2, 2012
      • ah, you lived in new york. makes total sense then, we’re kindred spirits. ;) next time i’m in columbus, i’m trying that place, thanks to you. and i will be there. comedians tend to have gigs friggin’ everywhere, against my will, but everywhere nonetheless. – moms

        April 2, 2012
    • Kindred spirits indeed. You will try it, then you’ll go through withdrawals, and we’ll have to send you to betty ford to ween off pho. Let me know when you’re in C-bus, I’ll bring the lady (who’s now following your blog as well) and some friends will check out your show, stare blankly/awkwardly from the front row…judging silently…

      April 2, 2012
  2. Nice write-up, Mike. Have you been to Pho Asian Noodle House on West Lane Avenue yet? I’m quite addicted to their Pho Ga and the Vietnamese spring rolls with shrimp and basil. Great! Now I have to drive over there and get lunch…

    April 2, 2012
    • Is that the old Taco Bell? Been there a few times, really good Pad Thai, and spring rolls, and you don’t have to get out of your car! But…Lac Viet wins the Pho contest. If you hit it up, let me know, I’m right down the street.

      April 2, 2012
  3. Have you been to Huong on Morse Road? or Mi Li Cafe?
    We have a list of Vietnamese restaurants (that we think are good) on foursquare.

    April 2, 2012
    • I’ve been to Huong, it’s right by my apt. but I haven’t tried the Banh Xeo, sounds delicious. Never been to Mi Li, How’s the pho? (actually, I just check out your website)
      Saw (one of) your trucks at the NorthStar in Clintonville last Saturday, been meaning to check you guys out. Thanks for reading! – Mike

      April 2, 2012
      • I like the pho at Mi Li. It sounds like Lac Viet has improved. I last had their pho when they were in the North Market and I thought it was really bland.

        You must have seen our van during the dessert tour. We have a stop at Jeni’s in Clintonville. I think you’d enjoy the alt eats tour.

        April 2, 2012
    • Yes, Thang’s stepped it up. The Beef or Lamb Pho are amazing, chicken is okay.

      That’s great! I will definitely check out the tour, I’ll try to round up some friends to tag along.

      April 2, 2012
  4. kost-a-saurus #

    i’m def hit’n that up. halle and I are lookn for a good PHO-sure place, since we are no longer live’n in the city of “The #1 Pho.” yes, that’s actually the name, im sure you know what I speak of.

    April 2, 2012
    • On Superior? Hopefully going there this weekend, unless I eat too much at the West Side Market, which is very possible.

      April 2, 2012
  5. Small world, Mike. I’m currently living in HCMC, Viet Nam but I lived in Columbus, OH for 11 years. (Ended up in NJ.) Nice post and pics and the pho sounds phenomenal. I have the best pho, of course, in Saigon and all. The BEST ones are the little mom/pop restaurants with no menus and tiny plastic stools that you sit with your knees jammed under your chin because of the ultra low aluminum tables. It’s the best, really!

    April 5, 2012
    • Hey, Winn! It really is a small world…columbus, through NJ, to HCMC? Sounds like you’ve gotten to travel a bit.
      Vietnam is in my top three countries to visit. I cannot wait to have my lanky legs (I’m 6’2″ :)) sitting at a table in HCMC trying the pho…oh man, now I’m hungry.

      Thanks so much for reading! – Mike

      April 5, 2012

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