To the point: good bun bo hue (might be the best available in Vancouver), ok everything else.
Cafe Xu Hue are famous for their Bun Bo Hue, a Vietnamese spicy beef and pork noodle soup that ideally contains pig’s feet (trotters). It’s on the same block as Sushi by Yuji.
Bun Bo Hue is a dish that originated in Hue, which is located in Central Vietnam. While the majority of Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver do Southern Vietnamese food, there are a few that do Central Vietnamese food, like this place and Hoi An Cafe on Victoria Drive.
Open 10-7 daily, closed Wednesdays.
Some of the prettier condiment dishes that I’ve seen in a Vietnamese restaurant. Have you figured out why they provide these little dishes? 😉
Their tiny menu includes two banh mi, three soup noodles, steamed dumplings, salad rolls, and a fried rice. I was really curious to try their take on a Thai fried rice with crab, but Wicca thought it would be an abomination to order fried rice in a Vietnamese restaurant… 🙁
I’m still interested in trying their #5 Banh Canh Cua Bot Loc, which sounds like it might contain those “rat tail” or “silver needle” noodles that are a personal fave but are so very hard to find good, chewy versions of. If you’ve had this dish, let me know what you thought of it in the comments.
Drinks on the other side of the menu.
Good assortment of herbs on the plate. Basil, rau ram (laksa leaf), shredded banana blossom, and lemon. Lemon goes better with chicken pho and the like, as opposed to lime.
Banh Bot Loc ($6.50). The menu says “Vietnamese Siu Mai Dumplings” but that’s pretty off-base.
They’re more like steamed
glutinous rice flour tapioca starch dumplings…
…filled with pork and (I think) reconstitued dried shrimp. It’s got a chewy, bouncy, elasticy, “squidgy” texture that I love. The nuoc cham (fish sauce dip) was fairly well-balanced and flavourful enough. The fried shallots tasted fresh, sweet, aromatic, and caramelized. Good shallots.
Bun Bo Hue Dac Biet ($10.25). Wicca’s mom makes a wonderful bun bo hue (*cough* when she takes the time to get it right and isn’t rushed *cough*) but Cafe Xu Hue’s version is the best Wicca’s had in Vancouver so far. Previous bowls at other places took obvious shortcuts with broth, pig’s foot, etc. This bowl had a flavourful broth, minimal MSG, and plenty of beef shank slices, Vietnamese ham, pork blood cubes, and chunks of meat from a pig’s foot (although not an actual piece of bone-in pig’s foot, which is disappointing but not a dealbreaker in this case).
Basil, rau ram (laksa leaf), and shredded banana blossom in Wicca’s bowl. It used to be hard to find the more interesting herbs like rau ram and banana blossom in Vietnamese restaurants. Only the better ones would bother providing them, but looks like more and more places are going the extra mile. Would’ve liked to see some ngo gai (sawtooth herb) though.
The bun bo hue at Cafe Xu Hue offers generosity and flavour, and is a solid bowl. There’s room for improvement (especially when compared to what’s possible in a homecooked version [grin]), but if you don’t have hours to spend over a hot stove, this works fine.
Pho Ga Dac Biet ($10.25). Very clear chicken broth that tasted like it had a touch more MSG than the bun bo hue, but it wasn’t too bothersome. Gently aromatic broth but could have a bit more depth and oomph.
The wide rice noodles were mealy and a bit too soft — the main negative with this bowl. Would’ve preferred more silkiness and stretchiness.
Interesting that the cilantro stems were included and treated almost like another vegetable in this pho. I kinda liked it.
Plenty of sliced white meat, some dark meat, and also some chicken gizzards!
Part of a wing too.
Cute little quail egg too. Overall an “ok” bowl of chicken pho. Doesn’t quite compare to the Chicken Pho at Cuu Long on Knight near Kingsway, which I wrote about here. Sadly, Cuu Long closed down in Summer of 2016. They had a free range chicken pho that they served with a little dish of lemon chili salt. More unique and tasty that this version. Sad face.
We also got a couple banh mi to go for someone else, so we only had a nibble of each. In short, these were just “ok”. They had some interesting elements (grilled meat in the dac biet) but overall comes up a bit short when compared to the dedicated banh mi places in town. This was the Banh Mi Ga aka Chicken Sub ($5). Interesting that they include not only cilantro but rau ram as well! That’s the first time we’ve seen rau ram used in a banh mi. Maybe if the other elements of the sandwich were better, I’d accept the use of rau ram…
The pickled carrots and daikon weren’t pickly enough. No pate. Couldn’t detect any mayo. But, there was plenty of meat, so they get points there.
Banh Mi Dac Biet ($5). The bread is the same kind of Vietnamese baguette that every other place uses when they aren’t baking their own baguettes in-house. They’re not bad baguettes…standard, I guess.
Points for grilled meat.
Didn’t really come together as an amazing sandwich, but I do like that they tried to do something different. I’d give their banh mis a pass. Banh Mi Saigon on Victoria Drive is still tops for me (review here).
My dream is to have a place like Banh Mi Boys in Toronto open up here — a place where they do all their banh mi to order, prepared by a full kitchen brigade working out of an actual commercial kitchen. Stuff like a calamari banh mi. We can all dream, can’t we?
Read about Banh Mi Boys and other restaurants in my Toronto trip report from 2013.