When the Viet-Hoa Cafe opened several months ago in Sandy, a trend was broken. For several years, it seemed that new Vietnamese restaurants opened around State Street between 900 and 1300 South. Now one of the state's fastest-growing communities can sample the flavorful and delicate cuisine of Vietnam without a long drive.
The Viet-Hoa Cafe is located along an unpretentious strip on State Street, bounded by some small shops, a convenience store, and a car lot. But the interior reflects some of the time-honored traditions of its homeland. Two modest but well-tended Buddhist shrines are situated near the front door. Large silk trees, wall-sized fans and lacquered murals of the Vietnamese countryside decorate the walls. Contemporary Vietnamese music plays in the background. Suburban sprawl is quickly out of sight and mind.The lengthy menu (more than 70 different items) features both Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. The dozen or so dishes we sampled, including soups, appetizers and the fried banana dessert, represented the flavorful characteristics of both cultures.
The skin of the fried spring rolls ($2.50) was a bit thick; however, the filling of ground pork, crab meat, shrimp and onions was very good. We were a little disappointed in the shrimp and pork rolls ($2.50), a cold appetizer known for its color as much as for its subtle taste. There was no hint of either mint or cilantro entwined with the pieces of shrimp or pork; the crunch was provided by what appeared to be lettuce.
There was also thin threads of vermicelli added, a different and somewhat redundant touch considering the rice paper dough skin that surrounds the filling.
Another appetizer was considerably better. The grilled pork with lemon grass ($3.25), chunks of juicy marinated pork served on a bamboo skewer, was delicious. The lemon and honey sweetness balanced nicely with the slightly salty marinade and smokiness of the grilled meat.
We could not sample our bellwether asparagus and crab meat soup, usually an indicator of quality in a Vietnamese restaurant. The kitchen was out of key ingredients. But the soups we did sample, the Viet Hoa special soup ($3.50) and the hot and sour soup ($1.50), were very good. The latter was similar to the rich spicy Chinese soups around town - slivered bamboo shoots, egg drop and pieces of green onion, awash in thick dark and spicy broth.
The specialty soup was a heaping bowl, enough at least for four, of sliced barbecued pork, shrimp, egg noodles, and assorted vegetables in a light broth. We missed the usual fresh bean sprouts, mint and lime wedges; but the soup was good nonetheless.
The good-sized entrees were all served hot from the kitchen; though several did not have quite the seasoning that we had expected. The orange beef ($6.95) was wonderfully aromatic - pieces of breaded beef doused with a red sauce surrounded by fresh orange slices. The sauce needed a bit more spiciness.
The Chinese-style Hunan combination hot plate ($9.95) also came with a mild sauce. But any dullness was compensated for by plenty of tender chicken, sliced beef and vegetables including napa cheese, straw mushrooms, carrots, pea pods and broccoli.
The only dish that reminded us of some of the seasonings we had become accustomed to in other Vietnamese dishes was the spicy Viet-Hoa noodles ($5.75). Just hot enough, the sauce covered a heaping portion of wide rice noodles and crispy vegetables and chicken. Another well-prepared sauce was the ginger and onion sauce, similar to a black bean sauce except with the liveliness of slices of fresh ginger, that covered the large disjointed Dungeness crab on one of the seafood specials. Except for the stringy texture and washed-out flavor of the crab, it would have been an exceptional treat.
Other specials include beef wrapped with grape leaves on skewers, Hanoi beef soup, several salads with fish sauce, ginger chicken, charbroiled pork meatballs, Saigon-style fried fish, fresh fish grilled with caramel sauce, and medium or large Oriental hot pots.
Despite some unevenness, the Viet-Hoa Cafe offers diners some tempting choices of both Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine.
Rating: * * *
Viet-Hoa Cafe, 8475 S. State, Sandy. 255-4794. Open Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.; Friday through Sunday, until 10 p.m. Accepts checks with guarantee card and major credit cards. Free delivery within 10-mile radius. (Another location at 278 W. Center Street, Provo).