BELLINGHAM - Soy House is scrambling to meet the pent-up downtown demand for Vietnamese food at the West Holly Street location that opened in September.
Restaurateur Tony Nguyen opened his first Bellingham restaurant at Bakerview Square in 2008 and quickly built up a devoted following. The Bakerview outlet is still going strong, and the new place features the same menu. Although the crowds downtown have thinned out a bit since the first few weeks of operation, the lunch hour was still bustling during our recent visit.
While the lunch menu is less extensive than the dinner version, choices still abound, including many meals at $7.99 for the cost-conscious.
In that category are many of the pho (soup) and banh mi (sandwich) selections, all of which are amply proportioned.
Doubtless many of you reading this know more than I do about pho and banh mi. Here's an explanation for the rest of you who have been missing out on something you probably will enjoy.
Pho is a Vietnamese soup with noodles. In a typical beef pho, the steaming bowl arrives at your table with the thin-sliced beef still pink and rare, and it cooks in the bowl as you watch. Thai basil, bean sprouts and jalapeño slices are served alongside and can be added to the soup. The Soy House version is rich and satisfying, with a salty-sweet broth.
Banh mi sandwiches are made with seasoned meats and Vietnamese ingredients like cilantro and shredded pickled carrot on big fat French rolls. Choices include chicken, pork, beef and vegetarian. For $7.99 you get a big sandwich plus a choice of sweet potato fries or egg roll. For lighter appetites, these sandwiches are big enough to share.
Another tasty option is bun - a Vietnamese word pronounced like the English word "boon" and in no way related to English "bun" or Chinese steamed buns. Vietnamese bun is a plate of noodles. They are also referred to as "vermicelli" on the Soy House menu to avoid confusion.
I ordered the $15.99 bun combo and got a big platter of tender rice noodles topped with prawns and chicken and a side of spring roll. You also can get single-meat or shrimp bun plates for $7.99 to $9.99.
This is nothing like Chinese-style stir-fry. The prawns and chicken atop the noodles had been cooked separately, intriguingly marinated and seasoned. This dish comes with shredded lettuce, cucumber and sprouts you can eat by themselves or mix with the rest. You also get a small bowl of sweetened fish sauce (or nuoc cham) to enliven the proceedings if you choose.
During dinner, there are pricier options, but they top out at $21.99 for an Asian-seasoned ribeye steak. One standout Vietnamese specialty on the dinner menu is banh xeo, a hard-to-describe delicacy akin to a crispy rice-flour crepe or pancake with shrimp, pork and other ingredients. For me, this is one of those dishes that is way better than it sounds. Please try it.
Address: 400 W. Holly St.
Price range: $8-$22
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or email@example.com.