Vietnam Café, Otahuhu, Auckland

There’s something about the fresh, honest taste of Vietnamese food that I crave on a regular basis. The flavours are simple, but so aromatic.

Vietnam Cafe (38 Atkinson Ave, Otahuhu, Ph: 09 – 276 9014) was recommended by a staff at the Vietnamese grocer up the road, always a good sign. There is a cluster of Vietnamese restaurants in Otahuhu, and competition in proximity always makes for a better standard of food. The decor is a different matter altogether, the look is 80’s canteen charm, with unnerving mirror panels lining the back wall.

The menu consists mainly of rice noodle, egg noodle and rice dishes, all $10 or $11. For groups, there is also steamboat and Vietnamese beef fondue ($45 for medium, $55 for large).

The mark of all good Vietnamese restaurants is their version of phở. Vietnam Café calls it ‘beef in rice noodle soup’, a massive understatement. Phở is the national dish of Vietnam and epitomises what Vietnamese food represents, – nourishing peasant food, perfectly balanced flavours and is utterly sublime when done right.

For $10, you get a bowl of fragrant beef broth, with plenty of rice noodles and paper-thin slices of rare beef. A side plate of beansprouts and lemon wedges is provided. The beef cooks quickly in the hot broth, which although flavourful, was not as full-bodied as I had hoped. The beef was deliciously tender, and overall, it was still one of the better phở I’ve had in Auckland.

M is addicted to the spare ribs rice noodle soup ($11), the spare ribs are mildly spicy and tender.

Pork rice noodle soup ($10), with generous shavings of roast pork in a pork-based broth.

Stir-fry chicken with vermicelli ($10). This colourful salad of sorts comes with nước chấm sauce, the ubiquitous fish sauce-based dipping sauce.

We also had the Vietnamese spring roll ($2.50 each, or 3 for $7), deep-fried parcels of pork and vegetable, wrapped in cold lettuce leaves and dipped in garlic nước chấm sauce. Very moreish.

I was a bit disappointed with the jackfruit nectar ($3.50); it was icy rather than a smoothie-like consistency. The traffic light ($3.50), an iced concoction made with sweetened red beans, mung beans, jelly, chendol and coconut milk, is a delight.

I have been trying to find the most authentic Vietnamese food in Auckland since I had my binge in Brisbane. Vietnam Cafe is a worthy contender.

Opening hours:
7 days, 10am – 10pm
Parking is available in front of the restaurant, and there is a parking lot across the road

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