Thuy Lee, owner of downtown St. Petersburg’s Vietnamese fusion restaurant La V, says real pho broth is made by marinating a neck bone overnight. But Vietnamese food is so much more than just pho. There’s the French-influenced Bahn Mi hoagie sandwich, noodles, and rolls. The number of places you can get authentic Vietnamese or fusion cuisine may surprise you. —Arielle Stevenson
ALESIA 57204 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-345-9701, alesiarestaurant.com. Former CL food critic Brian Reis fell head over heels for this St. Petersburg Viet-inspired spot. Alesia’s pho is spot on, with star anise and basil, long noodles and thinly sliced beef. Plus, they have an order of baby pho for the kids, too.
ASIAN HOUSE RESTAURANT 4747 66th St. N, Kenneth City, 727-548-1668, asianhousechinesevietnamese.com. The mix of traditional and popular Chinese and Vietnamese dishes is excellent. Get everything from Crab Wontons to Tom Ram Muoi (a salt and pepper shrimp dish). If you live nearby, take advantage of their daily delivery service.
BAMBOOZLE 516 N. Tampa St., Tampa, 813-223-7320, bamboozlecafe.com. Bamboozle is solely responsible for providing clean, lean, Vietnamese fuel to the downtown Tampa lunch crowd. The Subway-like rice wraps allow you to choose ingredients for each roll at around $3 a pop. Try one of the soups for a meal large enough to feed you lunch and dinner.
BEN THANH 4200 62nd Ave. N #C, Pinellas Park, 727-526-3051. Ben Thanh is the definition of hole in the wall, with very limited seating. But the pho is as authentic as it gets and only $5.50 for heaping bowls. Ask for the Kim chi, it’s off the menu but made in house.
HA LONG BAY 5944 34th St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-522-9988, ha-long-bay.com. One of the few area restaurants that sports two Vietnamese chefs, that’s in addition to both of their Dim Sum chefs. Ha Long Bay almost always has a crowd, probably because of the plethora of fresh seafood. Vietnamese crepes, pork and ginger dumplings, spicy beef soup and custard bun are just a few of the dishes available.
INDOCHINOIS RESTAURANT 1912 S. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-254-3757. Many local Vietnamese restaurants are more casual, but that’s not the case with Indochinois. This is the perfect spot to bring a date for a good bowl of pho.LA V 441 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-820-3500, lavfusion.com. A CL Critic's Pick for Best New Vietnamese Spot in St. Petersburg in our annual Best of the Bay issue, Thuy Lee (former owner of Thuy Café) brought her Vietnamese fusion homecooking downtown. Bahn mi sandwiches on toasted hoagies, fresh fruit boba tea made with exotic flavors like avocado and tomato, not to mention the soups. The pho is always good, but if you’re feeling adventurous go for the Da Nang Style or La V soup.
LOTUS VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT 6575 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, 727-549-1688, lotusvegetarianrestaurant.com. Lotus proclaims itself “Pinellas County’s only 100 percent vegetarian authentic Vietnamese restaurant,” and they’re probably right. There is no meat anywhere on the menu, and their pho is made sans-neck bone for our veggie friends. Check the calendar for their monthly vegetarian buffet.
MEKONG VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT 5944 34th St. N #20, St. Petersburg, 727-521-3378. Mekong is one of Little Vietnam’s most underrated eateries. Portions are hearty, service is friendly, and the prices are hard to argue. Try their pho, with comes alongside a heaping pile of fresh basil, jalapeno, lime wedges and bean sprouts. Or go for something a bit heartier like the beef egg noodle stew.
RESTAURANT BT 2507 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-258-1916, restaurantbt.com. Restaurant BT puts class and style into traditional Vietnamese dishes under the direction of executive chef Trina Nguyen-Batley. For example, the traditional flavors of pho are used in her lamb spareribs braised in star anise. Everything that comes out of her kitchen is first beautiful, then delicious.
SAIGON BAY RESTAURANT 2373 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, 813-971-0854. Some call Saigon Bay’s pho, the best in Tampa. We won’t argue that point other than to note their delicious fresh rolls. Service is notoriously fast and fresh.
SEASONS CAFÉ AND BAKERY 7261 U.S. 19 N, Pinellas Park, 727-623-0923, seasonscafebakery.com. Just a few blocks from Pinellas Park’s Little Vietnam strip of restaurants is the very casual Season’s Café and Bakery. Bahn mi sandwiches and Boba teas are their main game.
TASTE OF SAIGON 6527 Park Blvd. N, Pinellas Park, 727-548-1906. Fans of their Pho believe their special broth is the only kind worth dining on. Star anise is a bit more subtle, and the blend a little different than your average pho.
THUY CAFÉ 5944 34th St. N #22, St. Petersburg, 727-521-6406, thuycafe.com. Craving a bahn mi sandwich and Boba tea on the go? Thuy Café is the place to stop for fast and fresh Vietnamese cuisine. Fresh fruit boba teas with flavors like mango and pineapple, with a menu of dozens of flavor and jelly options.
TRANG VIET 1524 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, 813-979-1464. Trang Viet is practically a Tampa dining institution. Go in anytime of the week or day, and there is a representative cross-section of the population dining on their very vegetarian-friendly Vietnamese menu. Start with some vegetarian steamed buns or the southern vegetarian soup made with sweet potato, pumpkin, green beans, peanuts, and simmered coconut juice.
PHO QUYEN 8404 W. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, 813-885-9424, phoquyen.com. Tampa’s Pho Quyen has a similar following to its Pinellas counterpart by the same name. With over 125 authentic Vietnamese dishes, Pho Quyen has everything (including liquor) a Viet-cuisine lover could possibly desire.
PHO QUYEN ST. PETERSBURG 4505 Park Blvd. #10, Pinellas Park, 727-545-5678. Mention the name “Pho Quyen” and chances are you’ll get a positive response. Their pho has garnered something of a cult following for its large portions, fresh ingredients and low, low prices.