I often forget about this hidden gem in north county, because as my son points out, it’s so well hidden it’s a wonder anyone finds it.
But they do – they were packed at lunchtime today, for instance.
Tucked into a plaza right next door to PA BBQ is a plaza with a day spa and the Vietnamese Express Cafe. To get to the cafe, invisible from the street, you have to walk down a breezeway to the glass doors that open into this small, but comfortable space.
A large counter for take-out and a cooler with bottled drinks is on one end of the restaurant; several tables and chairs fill the remainder of the restaurant.
The menu seems large, but many dishes listed are variations you can order with their soups and sandwiches and entrees.
Pho and soup are specialties
Lunch is a great bargain here – portions are nearly family-sized, even at lunch. You apparently can’t make just a little pho – or a small bowl of soup.
This beautiful dish of flank beef soup was $7.95. It came with a large bowl of bean spouts, herbs, jalapenos and limes to add to the soup. He wondered about the spice in the great broth – he guessed Chinese five-spice, but it was the exotic star anise seedpods that imbue it with such a delightful flavor.
My choice was a combo offered for the day’s special – $6.95 for a half sandwich and huge bowl of chicken noodle soup. The soup alone would have fed two; neither of us could finish our bowls.
Pho is another specialty, along with “hot pots.” The soups and liquid meals take up three-fourths of the menu.
Portions are generous and filling
Filled with noodles, vegetables, meats and herbs, these are truly one-dish meals. Don’t over-order here – one appetizer and one hot pot or bowl of pho will feed two. The trouble is agreeing on the type of meats, or the spiciness of the soup. You can order it spicy, or use the jar of sriracha hot sauce placed on each table. (Use with care if you don’t know about this peppery-garlicky sauce – the green-topped bottle is hottest.)
The service is so friendly, it’s as though they know everyone, or certainly want to. They will walk you through the menu if you’re unfamiliar with Vietnamese dishes like BUN – the noodle salads with herbs, cukes, bean sprouts and toasted peanuts. A sweet-sour dressing comes with it. The rice platters have cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and the same sweet-sour sauce.
There are vegetarian dishes made with tofu, salads, lettuce wraps, and seafood meals like the popular black pepper shrimp or squid curry – a Viet specialty.
Desserts include a “bubble tea smoothie” – do try one if you’ve never had bubble tea, made with tapioca pearls. They use fresh fruits to make this frozen treat, great on a hot summer day.
Vietnamese Express Cafe
- 531 US Hwy 1, North Palm Beach
- 561-841-1313; www.vietnameseexpresscafe.com
- Open Monday-Saturday, lunch and dinner