In a small strip mall, where Florida and Sherwood Forest boulevards intersect, you’ll find Saigon Noodles, a slightly more modern Vietnamese version of the bounty of Asian eateries that populate the area.
Inside at lunch, it’s a bustling flurry of activity as servers deliver large steaming bowls of pho and plates of spring rolls to small and large tables of people searching for a fast lunch fix. At dinner time, the atmosphere is more subdued and relaxed as customers wander in to pick up to-go orders or enjoy a more leisurely meal at the tables.
You’re naturally going to be inclined to order the pho, as you should. As in any traditional Vietnamese restaurant, this is more than soup. This is a hearty beef broth served steaming hot (we went with the round steak and brisket, $7.50), with thin vermicelli noodles, ginger and onions, and more spices than I could ever list.
The pho is served with fresh Thai basil, cilantro, bean sprouts and a wedge of lime. Add as much as you want of the sides and customize the heat to your liking with freshly sliced jalapeños, a squirt of Sriracha and a dab of red chile sauce.
The broth is flavorful, rich and filling with lingering spices like cinnamon, fennel and star anise. Whether you use chopsticks, a spoon or a fork, the pho here is comforting and worthy of slurping.
For something different, try the autumn rolls ($4.95), a twist on the typical spring roll. The rolls, two per order and sliced in half, are filled with lettuce, carrots, mint, a thin fried wonton and grilled pork patty. A sweet pineapple chutney is served as a dipping sauce.
It’s different, unexpected and a refreshing change from the usual spring rolls, which also are good here. The rolls are inexpensive and a perfect appetizer to split among the table, or filling enough for a light meal.
The Saigon wings ($6.95) are a small serving of roasted drumsticks and wings, lightly covered with a lemon grass and garlic sauce. One regret was not being adventurous enough to order the spicier version, instead opting for the mild. I’d definitely consider picking some of these up for a future tailgate in place of regular wings.
While many people might judge a good Vietnamese place by the pho, I judge the bun, also known as a vermicelli bowl. The large bowls here are loaded with thin vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, cucumber and carrots, and can be customized with mixtures of pork, shrimp, beef, chicken and sliced egg rolls.
The bun is garnished with finely chopped nuts and cilantro, and topped with thin fish sauce, or nuoc cham. The marinated grilled chicken was flavorful but a little overcooked and paired with plump chargrilled shrimp ($10.25). It’s got crunch, sweetness with a hint of sour from the fish sauce, and it leaves you feeling full and satisfied and not overfed.
For a sampling of just about every protein that Saigon Noodles offers, try the Saigon House Special. For $11.95, this huge plate is filled with grilled and marinated pork and beef, a sugar-cane skewered fried shrimp, pork patty, a fried egg, egg cake and a small Vietnamese egg roll.
If that’s not enough, it comes with steamed rice and a clear soup. It’s delicious and more than enough for one person to eat and likely will result in a take-home container.
If you’re craving Vietnamese, Saigon Noodles is sure to satisfy. With it’s large menu, inexpensive prices and filling food, you’re bound to find something that will hit the spot.
1295 N. Sherwood Forest Blvd., Baton Rouge
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri.; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Wednesdays.
Info: (225) 663-6375
Pros: Big flavors, filling meals, low cost
Cons: Busy lunchtime means little seating