#LocalFoodieFriday: Vietnam Kitchen
There are a couple places in town that people just know are favorites. You can name off the cuisine and people will tell you automatically where you should go. BBQ? Feast! Burgers? Hammerheads! Brunch? The Silver Dollar! Hot chicken? Oops, you just started a turf war between Joella’s and Royal’s, and it’s probably best that you back off slowly…
Vietnam Kitchen is one of those places. It may not be the easiest place to find, but it’s certainly one of the best, and has a cult following that is easy to see from the number of times it pops up in “best restaurants in town” threads on Reddit. While great-tasting food is always subjective, it’s undeniable that this small hole-in-the-wall restaurant near Iroquois Park has some serious fans, so I wanted to go check it out for myself.
Louisville is amazingly ethnically diverse, but you would never know that if you don’t leave some parts of the city. A quick drive into the part of the South End that Vietnam Kitchen is located in can quickly fix that. The small shopping plaza that you’ll find it in also houses a Latinex jeweler, a Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant, a mosque, and a Somalian café (that a friend and I once had a nightcap at, and I can assure you that whatever spice blend they add to their tea lattes is addicting). My friends and I agree: seeing the diversity in once little plaza makes you feel like you’re in a larger city, and gives us hope for the future of ethnic integration in Louisville.
If you’re looking to visit Vietnam Kitchen during peak eating hours, then I wish you luck. The first time I went there was around 8 PM, and we were lucky in that there were a few tables available. The second time was around 6 PM, and I snagged the last table and dealt with a lot of glares from people waiting while I waited for my friend to get there. It’s a popular spot for both dine-in and take-out, and the crowd is a completely mixed bag of ages and races. I felt bad about how long it took me to order, but here’s the thing: the menu is MASSIVE. I normally have trouble deciding what I want at restaurants, but the variety of choices available made my struggle even more pronounced. Rice dishes, noodle dishes, soups, seafood specials, pan-Asian appetizers… I went twice and I still had no hope of deciding before I sat down. Often when a place has that many options, the food isn’t high quality because it’s just too many recipes to master. Not here! Everything I tried was top-notch, and menu diversity certainly didn’t seem to harm them.
Over my two visits, I tried the cheese rangoons, jicama rolls, pineapple curry, stir fried beef, and a dish that was similar to pho but made with flat rice noodles and chicken instead of vermicelli noodles and beef. All were exceptional, and I was thrilled with the spice level as well. My pho-like dish, for example, almost melted my face off, but in a very very good way. If you’re wary of spice, I’d recommend going with something that doesn’t indicate the use of chilis, and then adding your own heat with a variety of hot sauces that they keep on the table. The menu is descriptive to help you know what’s in a dish, and the waiter was very knowledgable about the particulars of the menu. Since Vietnamese isn’t a cuisine that many in this city know well, I’m sure he’s explained dishes many times before, so there’s no need to be embarrassed if you have questions!
My favorite part about living in Louisville is the opportunity to be adventurous and try new things. I also love the community spirit that makes getting recommendations so easy. I heard about Vietnam Kitchen through word of mouth, and now I’m passing on the suggestion to you: go! Explore one of the underrepresented cuisines in the city, and maybe try something that you’d never expected before. Vietnam Kitchen is one of those places that was born of an immigrant’s dreams and realized with the help of the community around it. Supporting local businesses is the best thing you can do for your community, and Louisville has been supporting Vietnam Kitchen for almost 26 years. Come on down and see what all the hype’s about – just save a table for me, if you can find one!