If I have an Achilles’ heel when it comes to food, it’s that I’m a sucker for fast-casual dining. (Blame it on my being a millennial with a limited budget.) But judging by the rapid proliferation of build-your-own pizza chains and the staying power of Chipotle, I’m clearly not the only one with a predilection for I-want-what-I-want-and-I-want-it-now eats. Give me a streamlined mix-and-match menu, fresh ingredients, cheap prices and quick preparation and I’m there.
Burrito bowls and chopped salads are basically a dime a dozen. So my interest was piqued when a friend introduced me to her favorite “the boyfriend and I are too lazy to cook tonight” restaurant, the neighborhoody Vietnamese fast-casual Viet Ha Noodles & Grill. Viet Ha follows the Chipotle format of limited options and college-student prices. You can order a vermicelli rice noodle box, jasmine rice box or banh mi sandwich. The noodle and rice boxes include a protein, a dressing and garnishes (lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, cilantro, fried shallots and pickled carrots). The banh mi consists of fresh baked bread, pate, cucumber, sliced onions, cilantro, pickled carrots, jalapenos and a protein. Proteins include grilled chicken, pork, beef, fried tofu and shrimp, with a fried egg available as an add-on. The dressings are even more basic: a light, tangy citrus vinaigrette and a punchy, savory soy.
Pork Banh Mi Sandwich ($5.99)
Shrimp Vermicelli Rice Noodle Box ($8.49)
Tofu Jasmine Rice Box ($7.99)
Egg Roll ($2)
Salt & Pepper Wings ($5)
Viet Ha is to Vietnamese food as Pieology is to Neapolitan pizza. It’s Vietnamese 101—simple and accessible to an American palate. The shrimp are bouncy, with just the right amount of crispness and give, and matched excellently with the vinaigrette and noodles. The tofu blocks are pillowy and go equally as well with the rice and soy sauce combo as they do with the banh mi. Viet Ha effortlessly transposes Vietnamese food to the fast-casual format. It’s quick, cheap and easy, but the freshness and bright flavor associated with Vietnamese food aren’t lost in translation. 2417 Broadway; (916) 391-9888; vietha.us