New Orleanians know their way around a bowl of pho, and with the wealth of good Vietnamese eateries across the city a pho fix never is far away. But while the restorative qualities of the anise-scented broth are hard to dispute, lately I’ve found myself longing for the soup’s spicier, heartier cousin: bun bo Hue.
Bun bo Hue is named for its birthplace, the city of Hue in central Vietnam, where stalls hawking the soup can be found on many street corners. It’s almost ubiquitous in early morning hours, when the soup is eaten for breakfast.
Though lesser known than the bowls of pho found throughout New Orleans, bun bo Hue can be found at some Vietnamese restaurants and TD Seafood Pho House, a new restaurant in Harvey, serves an excellent version.
Here, the broth is chock full of fried cubes of silky tofu, peppery slices of pork cake, thin slices of brisket and thick rice noodles. Sometimes, a cube of blood cake bobs on the surface. The dark broth is made by boiling beef bones and pork knuckles, the latter of which float in the bowl, gelatinous and slightly tricky to eat. Lemon grass, shaved red onions, scallions and cilantro add to the soup’s rich aroma.
While pho usually is served with sprouts and fresh basil, bun bo Hue often is accompanied by shredded cabbage and sprigs of rau ram, a leafy green herb (also known as Vietnamese coriander) that has a strong grassy taste. At TD Seafood, both soups are served with sliced jalapenos and bright red Fresno chilies.
The restaurant opened last summer in a strip mall on Manhattan Boulevard, and its name points to the two things the kitchen does best: soup and boiled seafood.
Here, the emphasis is on Viet-Cajun-style boiled seafood, first popularized in Houston, in which crawfish, shrimp, crabs or other boiled seafood are served glistening with a garlicky butter coating and a kick of Cajun spice.
Grilled pork spring rolls also are delicious, delivered in slightly warm rice paper wrappers filled with sweet marinated grilled pork, noodles, cucumbers and carrots. The accompanying peanut sauce is on the sweet side, and adding a dab of chili oil at the table adds a dimension of flavor.
Other Vietnamese hallmarks include bun, or vermicelli noodle dishes, topped with grilled meats, fresh herbs and vegetables. A selection of fried rice dishes deliver humble comfort-food satisfaction.
The delicious special combination rice, com chien cap thap cam, features browned rice studded with bits of fried egg, shrimp, pork, chicken, charred scallions and sauteed onions. The heaping portion is enough for two to share.
The banh mi selection suffices for diners in search of minimalist versions. A grilled pork sandwich featured strips of sweet, marinated pork, cucumber spears, carrots and a handful of cilantro and jalapenos, but the sandwich was dry.
TD Seafood serves satisfying versions of many hallmark Vietnamese dishes, but it’s the garlicky Viet-Cajun boiled seafood and excellent bun bo Hue that make this restaurant stand out.