It’s a little-known fact that Edmonton is unusually blessed with good Vietnamese restaurants—just one of the perks of being a safe landing place for the global diaspora. But the question comes up from time to time whether any of those good Vietnamese restaurants operate outside our Chinatown, home to towering purveyors of phoở and bún such as Pagolac, the Golden Bird, Xu Huế and Tau Bay, all nestled on or near 97 Street, just north of our burgeoning Ice District.
I can think of outliers that flout the rule like Phoở Hoan Pasteur in Kingsway, Cố Đô Huế in the north end and the estimable Phở King on Alberta Ave, but I will spare from scrutiny lesser strip-mall phở factories that fall short through small portions, inflated prices and a lack of rigour in laying on the details that befit a proper Vietnamese feed.
So I had to wonder about Saigon Taste. Situated next to a Starbucks near Oliver Square with mostly chain fast food joints for neighbours, the relative newcomer could easily succumb to the short-cutting, mothball-free bathrooms and glossy appurtenances that characterize the mainstreaming of Vietnamese food in our fair city, if only to pay the rent.
Saigon Taste’s menu clocks in at more than 140 items including soups, rice platters and sizzling dishes made with pork, beef, chicken, seafood or vegetarian options. But the truest test of a Vietnamese restaurant’s abilities is its facility with phở, the hearty beef noodle soup enjoyed any time of the day, and bún, the meal-in-a-bowl that was my introduction to Vietnamese food lo these many years ago.
A holiday disrupted Saigon Taste’s seven-days-a-week operating schedule, but I did manage to sample the Saigon special vermicelli bowl ($12.95) and their excellent iced coffee ($4.95). I know iced coffee is a big thing at the monopoly coffee outlets, but Vietnam had it down a long time ago, allowing a stiff jolt of rich French roast to slowly drip over a thick layer of sweetened condensed milk, then serving it over ice, resulting in a beverage that lands somewhere between espresso and a melted Fudgsicle.
Saigon Taste’s special vermicelli featured grilled pork, grilled shrimp, panfried lemongrass beef and those weirdly appetizing puce porkballs, along with spring rolls, match-sticked carrots and cucumber, sprouts and lettuce over skinny, slightly chewy rice noodles with a side of fish sauce. In short, it was a honking portion of food for the money and one that I was unable to finish. On the upside, there was an ort of toothsome meat in every bite, and the lean tags of pork had been imbued with aromatic five-spice powder; the chargrilled shrimp were super-succulent and the spring rolls were crisp and ungreasy.
However, I could have used some fresh herbs (basil, mint) and a touch more garlic to get me to the bottom of the bowl.
To Saigon Taste’s credit, everything I needed for the meal was accounted for—sriracha, chili paste, satay sauce, white pepper and hoisin sauce for dipping my spring rolls. They also know that good Vietnamese food should be accompanied by elevator music renditions of Careless Whisper and Up Where We Belong.
I was well slaked—and a little embarrassed when I realized too late that they had failed to charge me for my iced coffee and I had failed to point it out—and committed to returning to try more of Saigon Taste’s cooking. It may not match Chinatown’s finest, but there are compensatory charms, some yet to be discovered.
10383 112 St