Review of Viet Huong restaurant. STEPHEN PINGRY, Tulsa World The name outside remains the same,
The name outside remains the same, but what goes on inside Viet Huong, 7919 E. 21st St., has changed quite a bit.
The restaurant has occupied this spot since 1990, when Vietnamese native Cuong “Billy” Tran opened it, serving Chinese-American foods as well as what was at the time the slightly more exotic dishes of his homeland.
Tran passed away in 2017, and two years later his family announced they had sold the restaurant (Tran’s daughters have since opened their own place, Kai Vietnamese, in downtown Tulsa).
Kevin Nguyen purchased the restaurant and kept its original name, but began making some changes — sprucing up the interior with sky-blue paint and more stylish furniture, clearing away as many remnants of the space’s original incarnation as a fast-food joint as possible, and revamping the menu.
“I used the original menu as a start, but then I went my own way,” Nguyen said. “The old menu was very large — maybe 60 dishes, and lots of Chinese dishes. I wanted to make the menu smaller, and make Vietnamese food the main thing.”
While the restaurant still offers such familiar fare as sweet and sour pork, orange chicken, pepper beef, and fried rice, these options are relegated to the rear of the menu, without descriptions or photographs.
Conversely, the Vietnamese dishes are well-annotated and illustrated so as to draw a diner’s attention.
Viet Huong offers eight soups, along with entree plates built around noodles and rice, along with various proteins and vegetables. Appetizers include three cold spring rolls and one fried roll.
Most people judge a Vietnamese restaurant by its pho, the soup of long-simmered beef broth with rice noodles, topped with meats and spring onions. Viet Huong’s pho ($8.50-$9.50) broth is very good — properly unctuous with a great depth of flavor and nicely perfumed with star anise. While the typical condiments of hoisin sauce, soy sauce and chili paste are available at the table, we thought the broth needed no special augmentation.
It came with thin slices of rare steak that quickly lost their pink tinge in the hot broth, thicker slices of brisket, and chunks of the ubiquitous, slight spongy meatballs that are often served with pho. Plates of basil, cilantro and bean sprouts come with the dish.
My dining companion was a relative newcomer to Vietnamese food, and went with the bun cha gio ($9), which at heart is a salad, with cold rice noodles, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, and peanuts, topped with chopped fried egg rolls, and a half dozen pork meatballs. It is served a sweet, slightly peppery dressing, and comes in a bountiful portion.
We also tried mi wonton ($8.50-$9.50), which uses a chicken-based broth that is less assertive than the pho broth. Slices of char-siu pork and wontons that sort of resembled Christmas crackers shared space with toothsome, ramen-like egg noodles.
During the photo shoot for the article, we were able to sample mi vit tiem ($12), which also had the egg noodles, this time in a deeply flavored broth made from duck. A grilled duck leg quarter and sliced mushrooms come with the dish. The broth was a bit salty — Nguyen said he had not time to taste it and adjust the seasoning before we arrived — but still very tasty, and the duck was well-cooked.
Another dish sampled was com ga deluxe ($12), an impressive plate of food with a chicken leg quarter that was surprisingly crisp on the outside and juicy within, a fried egg, shredded pork, rice and a slice of cha trung, a kind of eggy meatloaf with threads of mung bean noodles. The taste and texture of this last element was intriguing, but it is best to eat it while it’s hot.
Chopsticks, forks, soup spoons, straws and napkins are in dispensers on each table.
As it has been from the beginning, Viet Huong is a family business. Nguyen said about eight family members work at the restaurant in various capacities.
This is Nguyen’s first time to own and operate a restaurant, he said. He was living in San Diego when a sister who lived in Tulsa told him about Viet Huong being for sale.
“I was wanting to get out of San Diego, where everything was so expensive,” he said. “I came out here in 2019, bought the restaurant, and started cooking.”
Nguyen oversees the various broths the restaurant uses. In addition to the beef and chicken broths that are used for several soups, he makes unique broths for the mi vit tiem; the pho bo kho, a rich beef stew; and the hot and spicy bun bo hue.
“It can take eight to 10 hours to make the broth properly,” Nguyen said. “I don’t like to leave them cooking overnight, so I will be here until 11, 12 o’clock at night. I want them to be just right.”
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