The last time I went to Vietnam Kitchen, I didn’t have a GPS app on my phone — in other words, it’s been too long. But once I parked and had lunch last week, I was relieved to find out that, after all this time, the food there is still amazing.
For a time back in the early 2000s, I had standing plans with a couple of friends to meet there on a regular basis. When that fizzled out, I began letting my schedule dictate my dining-out habits, and the Kitchen fell off the list. Then, recently, my girlfriend, Cynthia, informed me she’d never eaten there, which gave me all the impetus I needed to make a return visit.
We’re both glad that happened, even if our GPS apps took us to the rear of the Iroquois Manor shopping center, where the non-descript restaurant sits next to a busy laundromat.
Interestingly, in the many times I’ve visited Vietnam Kitchen, I’d never ordered the legendary Hủ tiếu Saté, which is probably better known as the K8.
(For the uninitiated, ordering at Vietnam Kitchen is easiest when you simply tell your server the item code rather than try to pronounce the dish itself. Saves time and embarrassment for everyone. There also are menus available with photos, so you can be sure of what you’re ordering.)
So, after we’d ordered some Xíu Mai, pork and shrimp dumplings, as an appetizer (that’s A6 if you’re scoring at home), I decided to finally try the K8. Cynthia, perhaps frightened away by the preponderance of little red peppers on the menu denoting spicy dishes, played it safe with some shrimp-fried rice as her entrée — also known as Cơm Chiên Tôm (L4).
It was a busy lunch rush, so we knew patience was in order. After maybe 10 minutes, our dumplings came out: four bigger-than-expected meatballs wrapped in noodles. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, unlike most such dumplings I get at Asian restaurants, these were primarily meat.
The pork and shrimp blend was dense to the point that the dumplings wanted to roll when I tried cutting them with my fork. But they were delicious, served in a light but flavorful soy-based sauce. It promised good things for our lunch.
Another 10 or 15 minutes went by, with our server checking on us a couple of times to make sure our water glasses were filled and that we didn’t want for anything, and our entrees arrived. Cynthia’s plate was piled with rice complete with plump, medium-sized shrimp and plenty of egg and vegetables.
Meanwhile, my K8 came in an enormous bowl, with big chunks of tender, fresh chicken and broccoli stalks atop rice noodles, with bean sprouts, peanuts and lemongrass. (Note: You can get beef or pork if you’re not into chicken.)
Interestingly, the dish, based on its ingredients, isn’t anything special. So, why is it the go-to choice for Vietnam Kitchen regulars, many of whom have been patronizing the restaurant since it opened in 1993? That’s a good question. At the same time, my lunch was a treat.
I’m not even a big fan of broccoli, but I found myself crunching it like there was no tomorrow, thanks in no small part to the perfectly spiced base that earned not one but three little red peppers on the menu.
Is it too spicy? Not at all. I’d say it’s just about perfect, so maybe that’s what all the fuss is about. At the same time, the distinctive, red-tinted broth made me pick up my spoon every few bites just to get a taste of the stuff, sans noodles or anything else.
I mean, just do an internet search and read the rave reviews for yourself. The stuff is understandably addictive.
While I was in full-on attack mode on my lunch, Cynthia was quietly putting away her ample serving of shrimp fried rice. She shared a few bites (trading broccoli for shrimp is a no-brainer in my book), and it was another score for one of Louisville’s favorite eateries, even if it was a fairly basic dish.
Vietnam Kitchen just manages to do it right somehow, which is clearly the allure. I’ve never walked out of there disappointed, I know that much to be true.
Vietnam Kitchen is located in Iroquois Manor shopping center on South Third Street, but its official address is 5339 Mitscher Ave., so if you’re not totally sure how to get there, your GPS might have some fun with you.
Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and noon-9 p.m. on Sunday. It’s closed on Wednesday.