Houston lunch: Les Givral's banh mi and spring rolls.

Beginning during the Fall of Saigon in 1975, thousands of Vietnamese natives emigrated to America with many of them landing in Houston. Over the years they created community, opening small businesses including hundreds of restaurants and eateries serving pho, vermicelli bowls, rice plates, and banh mi sandwiches. We're grateful that not only have we gotten to know and love this food over the last several decades, but also that first-generation Vietnamese Americans have begun to expand the capabilities of this rich cuisine.

We've curated a list featuring our favorite Vietnamese restaurants and eateries, whether they cook the traditional dishes really well; experiment with flavor combinations and diner expectations; or do a little of both. Here's our list (updated July 2020):

(Disclaimer: During the COVID-19 pandemic, we strongly suggest eating takeout. If you do eat at a restaurant, wear a mask, wash hands constantly and thoroughly, and don't touch your face. Be safe!)

Banh Mi Bon

Open since last summer, this Westchase eatery offers classics you’ve come to expect, like banh mi with charbroiled beef, chicken, pork, and fried egg. There’s experimental fare, too, such as a banh mi served with stew or curry, to be enjoyed like a French dip. Round out your order with cream cheese egg rolls (hey, it really works). 10555 Westheimer Rd, 346-802-4794

The G.O.A.T. Curry at the Blind Goat, plus some awesome "quexo."

The Blind Goat

Few chefs in Houston, or probably anywhere by that matter, possess the kind of skill—and flavor palettes—as Christine Ha, executive chef and founder of this Bravery Chef Hall concept bringing modern Vietnamese to a diverse Downtown crowd. Her insanely popular G.O.A.T. Curry with Rice unites lemongrass, coconut, and cilantro in perfect harmony with tender goat meat from Black Hill Farms. Ha also pulls off wild experiments like crave-worthy "quexo" (lemongrass, tamarind, shrimp powder) served with hefty wonton chips. You'll be shocked how much it tastes like Tex-Mex comfort. 409 Travis St, #367, theblindgoat.com

Cafe TH

Lunch tip: Order one of this Midtown stalwart’s vermicelli dishes (a large for $10) because the volume of food you’re getting is bound to last at least two meals, if not three. The standard bun thit nuong (chicken and vegetables) is a good start. The cafe’s extensive banh mi sandwich menu includes typical hits (pork roll, pate), but specialty items like Porter’s Balls (four pork meatballs ground together) pack in the most protein and satisfy even the biggest hungers. 2108 Pease St, cafeth.com

Cali Sandwich & Pho

Love when the roof of your mouth gets a little sensitive from that sharp baguette? Here’s where t0 go for that sensation. Cali Sandwich’s banh mi sandwiches have that durable, crispy sleeve to hold its proteins. This favorite spot among Midtown dwellers also has hefty spring rolls with snappy veggies and a whole lot of vermicelli, as well as Chinese-American lunch specials like General Tso chicken. Cali is rolling along with takeout, and we recommend calling ahead to place an order, as lunch especially seems to be a bustling time. 2900 Travis St, 713-520-0710

Crawfish & Noodles

Chef/owner Trong Nguyen started offering mudbugs in mouth-numbing garlic butter more than a decade ago, just as that style was becoming a staple of the Houston diet. An order of Viet-Cajun medium here is fiery enough, but don’t stop there: Nguyen’s eclectic menu includes the Vietnamese fried chicken dish com ga xa xiu and deeply delicious hot-pots like the lau duoi bo with oxtail. Come prepared to wait up to an hour—totally worth it. 11360 Bellaire Blvd, 281-988-8098 

88 Boiling Crawfish & Seafood Restaurant

Nab a seat beneath the covered front patio of this standby for moderately fiery crawfish in rich garlic butter—the best choice here. Try green mussels for an alternative boil option. Elsewhere on the menu, two grilled catfish with three jumbo shrimp, fried rice, and salad is a steal at just $13. 1910 Wilcrest Dr, 713-789-8288

Hughie’s

Hughie’s is what every long-standing neighborhood hang should aspire to be: familiar, comfortable, and offering twists and turns on a deep-enough menu. We’re talking Vietnamese comfort, from banh mi to vermicelli noodles and fried rice, but strong spice profiles and commitment to authenticity prevail. The crispy cha gio (spring rolls) come with lettuce for wrapping, plus fish sauce and a decent pile of pickled carrots. The steamed dumplings hold up well, plus the chili lime soy sauce is a nice burst of salty citrus. 1802 W. 18th St and 4721 N. Main St, hughiesgrille.com

A bowl of bun bo hue from Huynh.

Huynh Restaurant

When I'm raiding the fridge late at night, that box of Huynh’s chien thap cam is a beautiful sight. Also known as combination rice, the dish is essentially a mound of rice with peas, carrots, and egg, and what might also be called a meat feast: chicken, beef, and Vienna sausage slices. If you played your cards right, you might also have leftovers of the bun bo hue, that spicy beef and vermicelli soup with a sharp lemongrass edge. This is what I want from the EaDo stalwart feeding hungry Houstonians for the last decade-plus: some decent food in really big batches to tide me over for a few days. 912 St. Emanuel St, huynhrestauranthouston.com

Jolynn’s Crawfish

This family-run strip mall joint dishes out mudbugs in flavors including garlic butter, lemon pepper, Cajun, and Thai basil. An order of “mix all” combines everything but the Thai basil with beautifully tangy, rich results. Tack on an order of the pork-and-shrimp fried rice, and kick back in front of the TV with a beer or two. 10834 Beechnut St, 281-988-5870

Kau Ba

Chef/owner Nikki Tran may well be called notorious for bringing Viet-Cajun food to Vietnam. After a star turn on David Chang's Ugly Delicious, Tran returned to Houston to with her Vietnamese version of Viet-Cajun, literally building on a cuisine originally shaped by the Bayou City. Dishes like Saigon Sunrise–a pork-chop and egg cake delight with kimchi apples—prove Tran is working in a world of her own. You'll also find Blue Point oysters, duck leg, brisket, anchovies, and corn on this wildly adventurous menu with two main sections: Biggie and Smalls. Notorious indeed. 2502 Dunlavy St, #B, kaubakitchen.com

Les Ba'get

Opening in early 2019 in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest, this modern Vietnamese neighborhood restaurant from the folks behind Les Noo'dle offers all the good stuff: a variety of traditional and special spring rolls, like Texas Smoked packed with oak-smoked brisket; banh mi in baguettes and croissants, including our favorite the hoisin butter chicken; and vermicelli bowls and pho offering tofu, beef, pork, and other proteins. For a rich meal, go for pho with fatty brisket, tendon, and quail eggs. 1717 W. 34th St, #800, lesbaget.com

Les Givral's Sandwich & Cafe

Be prepared to wait a few more minutes for your lunch order, as folks love snapping up the super spicy and crunchy banh mi sandwiches (super cheap at $2.50) from this Midtown stalwart. Our top protein choices include chargrill-meatball and chargrill-barbecue pork with pate. Les Givral's also offers rice sheets with veggies and protein so you can make spring rolls, and for the mega-hungry, a plate of the beef fried rice is perfect. 2704 Milam St, 713-529-1736

Pho Saigon

While this beloved spot for nourishing bowls of pho and plates of vermicelli fills up most every night, it’s pretty easy for a solo diner to get a table thanks to the quick turnover time. Our go-to orders are the pho chin bo vien with meatballs and lean meat and the pho tai nam gau gan with just about every meat on the menu, including soft tendon and fatty brisket. Cut the fat with the refreshing, fizzy lime drink called da chanh, and bring your favorite puzzle book for company. 2808 Milam St, #D, 713-524-3734

Pho Vn 21

Bellaire’s popular place for pho and banh mi sandwiches is open for dine-in service, but it also offers online ordering through GrubHub, plus standard takeout. Several types of pho are available, including seafood bowls, and the sandwich menu is tight, focusing on tried-and-true items, like grilled pork, two eggs, and fluffy, intensely shredded chicken floss. 5800 Bellaire Blvd, #101, 713-663-7879

Roostar

Linda and Ronnie Nguyen’s casual banh mi chain makes guests feel right at home. The chopped ribeye, which doesn’t skip on the meat, is a champion, while The Special—pork belly, ham, and pâté—is extra satisfying, especially with a runny egg. Other excellent options include smoked salmon and avocado sandwiches. 5551 Richmond Ave and 1411 Gessner Rd, #I, 832-767-3319

Grilled fish for takeout? Just pop it in the oven for 15 minutes, add onions, and voila!

Saigon Pagolac

One of the joys of this staple of homestyle Vietnamese is the table-side warmth you get in its spacious dining room. With takeout, just bring home some of the restaurant’s more-DIY dishes and make it a quarantine party with your family. Example: Order the popular seven courses of beef, and you’ll get to simmer up the pre-made vinegar broth and fondue lovely sheets of raw beef tenderloin for the bo nhung dam before tearing into charcoal-grilled bo cuon mo chai and bo sate. Or bring home the ca nuong mo hanh  (the very popular grilled fish). Pagolac does half the work for you—just butter it; pop it in the oven for 15 minutes; add a topper of onions and pork belly; and use the meat in homemade spring rolls (rice paper and a wealth of veggies included). 9600 Bellaire Blvd, #119, saigonpagolac.com

Vietnam Coast Restaurant

Over on Hillcroft near Mid-West, longtime favorite Vietnam Coast has been offering takeout and delivery for weeks. Bigger on fried rice and noodle dishes, plus larger Chinese-style dinner plates like Mongolian beef and Hunan chicken, this is a spot that makes sense when you and your partner can’t decide on a specific cuisine. Call 713-266-0884 to place your order. 2910 Hillcroft Ave, vietnamcoastrestaurant.com

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