I've been an idiot, not much better than the sheep I complain about going to the same restaurants over and over not willing to try something new. I've been passing Saigon Pearl and Simply Vietnamese for nearly a year, unwilling to waste a meal on them. Same for Huynh Gia. And it's been my loss because all three have some damn tasty food on offer.
Finally tried Huynh Gia. It's in the same little strip center as Good Taste and My Brother's Crawfish, the former Ngoc Han Bun Bo Hue space, just off 82nd north of Division. I guess the best I can say about myself is that I didn't want to be disappointed in my dearly departed NHBBH's space.
Menu isn't that unusual at first glance. It's heavy on soups, a page devoted to pho, a half-page to hu tieu, It's got bun and com dishes, of course. It does have an interesting section called "Ailment Entrees" that has stuff like salt and pepper squid, but also deep fried pork leg (gio heo chien gion), goat rib three ways (grilled, steamed, or stir-fried in curry), and duck blood pudding (tiet canh viet, needs 2 hours advance and only available during the day). Also corn with dried shrimp and butter (bap xao tom kho) and tamarind cured beef salad (bo tai me).
I just had bun mam at both Saigon Pearl and Pho Oregon, so I decided to go with that for ease of comparison. (Also, I'm eating a Vietnamese or Thai noodle soup every day this month.) It comes with a nice herb plate: mint, rau ram, tia to, jalapeno, lime, cabbage, banana blossom, and sprouts. Everything was very fresh and plentiful.
In the bowl was eggplant, fish, shrimp, pork belly, squid, garlic chives (I think I may have assumed they were scallions before, wrongly, even though I've seen these a million times in the market; noodlepie sets me straight, though), and noodles, of course. I really liked the use of the pork belly. They gave a generous amount and it had good flavor. The fish tasted like tilapia, which always tastes freezer burned to me. The fish used at Saigon Pearl is a lot better, imo, than the stuff either here or at Pho Oregon. The eggplant was like that at Saigon Pearl -- very seedy, likely bitter, though I didn't try it.
The broth, though, was the most pungent of the three. Very savory and funky balanced nicely by some garlic. Not as sweet as Saigon Pearls or as spicy as Pho Oregon's, I'd say. But definitely the most funky and quite delicious. It's a tough call on which of the three is the best. I'd probably go with Saigon Pearl's because of the fish.
The bigger surprise, though, was how damned good their fish sauce wings are. These are the best I've had in PDX next to Pok Pok's (and Ten-01's). There's a case to be made they're every bit as good (assuming they're equally as good in the future). Wonderful crunch to them, perhaps to the point that they're a little dry on the ends. But great crunch. And the balance of flavors in the sauce puts most versions in town to shame. Perfect balance of caramelly sweetness, funky fish funk and heat. It's the spiciest version I've had at any of the Vietnamese restaurants. It's also the best version I've had at any of the Vietnamese restaurants.
Huynh Gia Restaurant
8230 SE Harrison St, #315
Portland, OR 97216
Fri to Wed, 10am to 8pm.