Try as I might, there’s virtually no way to keep up with the ebb and flow of Vietnamese noodle houses around here. I assumed this happened everywhere, purveyors of phở and bun fetching up in nooks and crannies all over the city, some of them appearing almost franchise-y with their Anglicized names and their laminated, logo’d, typo-free menus. As it turns out, Edmonton is inordinately blessed, on a per capita basis, with such noodle-oriented establishments of Vietnamese extraction. And they’re all over the map. I used to believe the best phở was found in Chinatown, but an unbeatable little place in Queen Mary Park taught me to never overlook the neighbourhood Viet-staurant. Incidentally, if anyone knows anything about the whereabouts of Thai Binh (formerly of 113 St and 109 Ave) or the people who operated it, I’d be right obliged to know.
My point is, keeping up isn’t possible, so the best one can do is stick one’s head in at an unfamiliar Vietnamese place once in a while and hope for some magic. If a really excellent dish is rarer than one would hope, the fact is that an unpalatable dish is far rarer, and Vietnamese restaurants tend to skew less expensive so you don’t feel so bummed if it’s not great.
A few years back I spent a month travelling in Vietnam. While I always try to pick up enough of the local language to at least be polite, I doubt that I ever uttered a single word any Vietnamese person would recognize as their native tongue. So I’m guessing I have no chance with the correct pronunciation of Uyên Ương, a recent addition to the tight knot of noodle houses on and around 97 Street and 106 Avenue. I don’t know how recently, but within the past couple of years the restaurant was formerly known as the Golden Lotus. Uyên Ương still bears its predecessor’s esthetic—bright yellow and white interior—which strikes a startling contrast to comparatively drab nearby phở landmarks Tau Bay, Pagolac and the Golden Bird.
Co-diner and I ran in for a quick bite on a weeknight just past seven o’clock and found the place lightly busy, certainly not enough to slow down the speed of the service or meal delivery. We both wanted bún tô, the handy-dandy meal-in-a-bowl comprising of vermicelli tossed with shredded veggies, herbs, spring rolls and grilled/pan-fried meats, served with fish sauce. My response to rereading that description is Pavlovian. First though, we’d share a mango salad ($9.95), a surprise switch from the salad rolls or green onion cake we often choose.
Unlike the fierce papaya salads of Thailand, Uyên Ương’s mango salad was more subtly dosed with garlic, fish sauce, lime and chilies, allowing the mild sweetness of the barely ripe mango, tossed with shreds of carrot and cilantro, to assert itself. The ring of plump steamed shrimp around the perimeter of the plate was a very good idea.
The vermicelli bowls were certainly within spec—generous skeins of noodles with shreds of lettuce, carrot and cuke, nicely seasoned grilled pork and spring rolls in mine ($8.95), the fabled three colours (pork, shrimp, spring roll, $8.95) in hers—and presented in unusually attractive, gleaming white dishes. It’s probably just my ardour for Pagolac’s legendary number 57 that keeps me from awarding full marks. In any case, co-diner and I got well fed for about $15, and co-diner had a fair heap of mango salad for lunch the next day.
I was less thrilled overall with Delicious Phở (10418 – 124 St), or at least with the eponymous delicacy. Located in the former home of the Makk (with another branch in Sherwood Park), Delicious has a handsome space to do business and one somewhat incongruous with the grating FM radio being pumped into it. The menu runs the gamut of Vietnamese comfort food, from familiar appetizers to soup to rice and noodle dishes, even subs. We ordered some salad rolls ($6) to share, phở for me and bún tô for my co-diner. The salad rolls came in an order of three and I wished they had cut them in half, not only so they would have been easier to dip in the small dish of hoisin with which they came, but so co-diner would stop flopping them around, pointing out how phallic they looked. They were solidly salad roll-ish, with sliced pork, shrimp and basil.
At first I was afraid my bowl of beef noodle soup ($9.25) came without the requisite side of sprouts, citrus and fresh basil, but they had just forgotten to bring it. Usually thin slices of raw steak are dropped in the soup just before serving to get just-cooked in the broth in the moments before eating. This steak seemed rather more cooked than that. The brisket—aka, “the bacon of beef”—was underrepresented. The bigger issue for me was that the broth, usually so complex and aromatic, was stronger and saltier than I’m accustomed to, which made it harder to finish once the meat was all gone. Co-diner fared better with her bowl of vermicelli ($11.50), which certainly looked appetizing and seemed well supplied with grilled pork and grilled prawns.
10626 – 97 St
10418 – 124 St