We are very fortunate in Greensboro to have the largest population of Montagnards (French for “Mountain People”) outside of Southeast Asia. Many Vietnamese that chose to fight alongside the United States in the Vietnam war were relocated to North Carolina after the war. This offers a little explanation for how a small Southern city in North Carolina could have such a fantastic exposure to the history, culture, compassion and cuisine of the Vietnamese central highlands and beyond. I’ve become somewhat of an enthusiast when it comes to the food. It is colorful, balanced, fresh, flavorful, very healthy and extremely affordable. These are some of my favorite restaurants in the area.
Binh Minh restaurant is located just past the FantaCity shopping center on West Market street. Walking in, you will immediately laugh a little at the silly decor (fake plants, a wooden carving of a woman breastfeeding, and Christmas lights, checkered table cloths) but I assure you it is part of the charm. The food is fantastic, the service is great and Binh Minh has become my number one recommendation because of its consistency and extensive menu.There is something for everyone including a small Japanese hibachi menu for those friends of yours that are less adventurous.
Our favorites from the menu: Vietnamese Spring Rolls, Papaya Salad with Shrimp and Pork, and the Roasted Quail with pan gravy over rice.
Pho Hien Vuong
This place is Binh Minh’s dressed up and somewhat Americanized sister. Pho is easily the most popular restaurant on this list and I believe that is largely due to the ambience. It is clean, has subtle decor and the menu is very easy to understand. Pho has fantastic lunch specials and unlike some of the other places, they give you the option to choose the style of noodle in any of the soups.
Our favorites from the menu:
The appetizer sampler (fried tofu, crispy chicken wings, two types of spring roll and a fresh roll),
Bun (the fresh cold version of a Pho that is amazing all year round but a favorite of mine in the summer. You pick your protein and it comes out atop a bowl filled with vermicelli, lettuce, cucumber, herbs and a tangy dressing made of fish sauce, citrus and sugar).
Pho Ga (A chicken and vermicelli soup seasoned with an amazing blend of herbs and spices including star anise, clove, cinnamon, fennel, coriander and cardamom. The soup comes with a basket of jalapeño, lime, bean sprouts, cilantro and basil as well as a variety of sauces you can add to flavor the soup to your liking).
Tu Quyn is possibly my favorite restaurant in the city. Everything is cooked to order by these sweet and adorable sisters who, most of the time, are the only people working in the restaurant. Occasionally their kids help out with the register but I’ve never seen anyone else at the stove. This is not the kind of place you bring 15 of your friends and then expect all the food to come out at the same time, it’s not the kind of place to go without patience. In many ways Tu Quynh is not much like your typical restaurant at all.Walk in and if they are busy grab the menu yourself and sit down.You are now in the home of your new Vietnamese mother and she is going to take care of you. Seriously, just try anything.
I recommend the shrimp and pork fresh rolls (rice wrap filled with lettuce, cilantro, basil, vermicelli, shrimp and pork served with a peanut dipping sauce), the rare beef pho, and the Mi Xao Don (a nest of egg noodles is deep fried then filled with a stir fry of mixed vegetables and your choice of protein in a flavorful brown sauce which softens the noodles) and definitely get a Taro Bubble tea.
Van Loi II
I’m not going to lie to you about this one. Don’t let it be your first exploration into Vietnamese food unless you are brave. The place is a little filthy, there is minimal English spoken, the service kind of sucks and it is amazing. Part Chinese barbecue butcher shop and part Sit down Vietnamese restaurant, Van Loi is not for the squeamish. It wouldn’t be strange to walk in and see an entire pig on the table and there is always a roasted duck dangling from a hook in the front window. This place is traditional and no one here is joking. You can order just about anything here and everything I’ve tried has been pretty amazing. They have everything from the nasty bits to the more normal stuff that I tend to stick to.Some of my favorites are the ground pork skewers and the rare beef salad but the Duck Leg with Black Mushroom and Egg noodle soup is in the running in my head for best dish in the city.
Banh Mi Saigon
This place is really amazing. $3.00 to $4.00 sandwiches on toasted French bread with popular Vietnamese toppings and flavors. Pick your protein (everything from Pate to chicken and vietnamese ham) and then top it with various pickles (carrot, daikon), cucumbers, lettuce and a spicy mayo. This place is fast, fantastic, cheap and leaves you with no reason to go to Subway for your foot long ever again. The chicken is always good or if you like to try new things, you’ll never get anything but the #1 again after you’ve tried it.
I Love Pho
This is the newest to open up and I’m sad to say I’ve only been once. It is way out High Point road on the way to Jamestown after the $1.00 theater. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about it but it was an excellent meal. It’s clean, the staff is very friendly and I think they have gained in popularity with the Sedgefield Country Club area and some of the High Point /Jamestown residents that are I’m sure happy to have a good Vietnamese restaurant a little closer to them. Go get a bowl of Pho, take a tequila shot at El Mariachi and go see a $1.00 movie at Sedgefield Crossing.
Saigon was the first Vietnamese restaurant I ever went to. I was 20 years old and the band I was playing in had a show in Greensboro. I was in love. Back then Saigon was a positively reviewed packed house every night. It was a beautiful restaurant and there was a buzz about it. I’m not really sure what happened but possibly the influx of other Asian fine dining restaurants popping up (Phoenix, Vietnamese Garden, PF Chang’s etc), the construction surrounding the building and the general demise of that area has done something to the spirit of the restaurant. Get your friends together and give them some business, I think they could just use a fresh start. The signature dish is the Ginger chicken in a clay pot and it really is the best around.
Vietnamese Garden is by far the most beautiful restaurant on this list. The quality of food is high and although you are sacrificing a little bit of the thrill of tradition you are getting a high quality, expertly prepared meal in a beautiful, well maintained restaurant. Vietnamese Garden has stolen Saigon’s thunder as the King of Vietnamese fine dining. Recently the restaurant has tried some Dim Sum Sundays, added a sushi bar, a great wine list and just completed a brand new patio which will be great this summer. This is a great place to come if you are a vegetarian as there are many many options; try the Mabo Tofu, it’s amazing. If you are not a vegetarian, give the Mongolian beef a try.