Vinh-Long is one of those finds that makes my quest for little known restaurant treasures worthwhile. During a hectic work trip to Nashville I was staying near the airport, far away from my usual haunts near Vanderbilt and downtown. Using my Yelp app I found this little hole in the wall which Owen Nguyen opened nine years ago. He named his Vietnamese restaurant after his wife’s hometown and infused his Japanese cooking background. According to the reviews I read, the pho and beef with carrot soups were the ticket.
Hidden in a downtrodden neighborhood and a depressed shopping center, the area was so rough I actually considered not stopping. I was in town for an important meeting the following morning, and thought, “Dare I risk digestive issues?” It was nearly 100 degrees out, not exactly soup weather but I decided to go for it. When I walked in I was greeted with smells wafting from the kitchen that invoked memories of bistros in France that reek of rich, saucy sensations.
I ordered a spring roll, beef carrot soup (mi tiu bo kho, $6.25), and an ice cold Kirin to wash it all down. The spring roll was delightfully fresh, giving the most wonderful crunch while the sauces made my tongue sing. Then came the beef and carrot soup, a Vietnamese dish with French influence. If you’re thinking that sounds boring, boy would you be mistaken.
I’m not even sure how to describe it or where to start…I wish I had a visual (my iPhone camera was on the fritz). But with a bit of imagination you can get the gist of it. Think of a big steaming bowl of beef stew crossed with components of pho (noodles on the bottom, crushed peanuts and chili oil on top) served with a heaping side plate of basil, jalapeño, lime and sprouts. Deeply soul satisfying with its intense depth of flavor – the kind only a well trained chef knows how to achieve with constant seasoning and adjustment – and a surprising crisp brightness one wouldn’t expect (perhaps from a bit of acid?). I would do REALLY BAD things to get this recipe!
One of the reviews I read on Yelp was hilarious, it compared Vinh to smoking weed for the first time, “soothing, relaxing, refreshing, inviting & fulfilling.” I don’t know about the weed, but I am addicted to this stew!
Would the gods have eaten ambrosia if they’d known mi tiu bo kho existed?
Tips for visiting:
– They only accept cash, its super cheap so you won’t need much
– Hours are limited (they closed at 7, so you may want to call ahead)
– A Vietnamese couple were oohing, aahing, and slurping over their pho at the next table, so give that a whirl
– Lots of reviews say to try Cafe Da (coffee made in a French press and served with ice and condensed milk)