Insider’s Guide

Best of International Houston: Vietnam

Buddhist temples, mega malls and, of course, iced coffee

By Nick Esquer September 1, 2015 Published in the September 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Hong Kong City Mall

Population in Houston: 74,000 (the 3rd largest Vietnamese population in the country)

“When I was 4, Chinatown was downtown and small. Since it moved more toward Bellaire, it has included a wider range of Asian cultures, more representative of what Houston really is.” —Judy Le, director, Rice University’s Leadership Rice

Bun Bo Hue Duc Chuong 

12148 Bellaire Blvd., 832-351-2644

True to its roots, this soup house offers only one menu option: bun bo Hue, a Central Vietnamese beef soup famed for its delicate balance of spicy, sour, sweet and savory flavors. And Duc Chuong's soups comes in only two sizes, large and giant, in another nod to tradition. 

Hong Kong City Mall

11205 Bellaire Blvd., 281-575-0677,

People-watching and window shopping doesn’t get any better than at this Chinatown showpiece, the largest Asian indoor mall in the southeastern US—and don’t let the name fool you; the offerings inside the Hong Kong City Mall are predominately Vietnamese. Peruse more than 20 food and grocery stores offering an abundance of fresh meats and produce, as well as a variety of music, fashion and home goods shops.

Lee’s Sandwiches

12210 Bellaire Blvd., 281-933-9988,

If you want a strong, sweet way to start the day (or keep it going), forget about those Starbucks shakes. Vietnamese iced coffee provides a jolt like you’ve never had. Lee’s crushed ice-filled, super-strong paragon of frostiness packs a concentrated dose of caffeine that will wallop you through any slow afternoon—and despite the name, the ca phe sua da is the reason to visit Lee’s, not the sandwiches.

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Nam Giao

6938 Wilcrest Dr., 281-568-4888 

Specialties from Hue and the central portion of Vietnam, the mountainous middle that produces a range of spices for which the region is known, are spotlighted at Nam Giao, where you’ll find excellent takes on dishes such as delicate rice cakes (banh beo) topped with shrimp, the clear dumplings wrapped in banana leaves called banh bot loc la, creamy homemade yogurt (da ua) with a pop of lemon and, of course, fiery hot bowls of bun bo Hue.

Our Lady of La Vang Catholic Church

12311 Old Foltin Rd., 281-999-1672, 

The gently upturned corners of the stacked red clay roofs of this Vietnamese Catholic church in northwest Houston are purposely curved to resemble the architecture of Vietnam’s communal houses and stacked to resemble its pagodas. A 40-foot high statue of Our Lady of La Vang greets visitors to its daily masses, one of which per week—on Saturdays at 6 p.m.—is bilingual; all the rest are in Vietnamese.

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Statuary in the gardens outside the Vietnam Buddhist Center

Image: Scott Dalton

Viet Hoa International Foods

8300 W. Sam Houston Pkwy. S., 832-448-8828, 

This Alief grocery store is loaded with fresh fish and swinging hot hocks of meat, giving the place an authentic market feel. Stop by adjoining eateries Olympic Bistro & Bakery for Vietnamese baked goods and LA Fisherman for Viet-Cajun crawfish, blue crab, lobster, mussels and more.

Vietnam Buddhist Center

10002 Synott Rd., Sugar Land, 281-575-0910,

Just down the street from the All Saints Anglican Church that serves a huge portion of Houston’s Nigerian population and the Chinmaya Mission Houston that serves area Hindis is the sprawling Vietnam Buddhist Center compound. Though the main sanctuary suffered a collapse last year, the monks have been busy raising funds to rebuild it; in the meantime, the center still hosts its weekly vegetarian meal—open to the public—on Sundays starting at 9 a.m. as well as regular Vietnamese language classes and festivals, all presided over by a stark white, 72-foot tall statue of Quan Am, the bodhisattva of compassion.

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