For dinner, the wife was craving some traditional Vietnamese noodles call bún riêu. To get this, we ventured out to west Houston to Kim Chau Restaurant. This restaurant was highly recommended by optometrist and his wife, who are Vietnamese and run a great optometry practice, no correspondence between the two facts. Though we were skeptical since this place is not anywhere near Chinatown, we learned three things about it: 1) they make their bún riêu with snails, 2) they also make a great bún bò Huế, and 3) they're in a strip mall. These three facts sold us on making the drive and trying a new place.
When we found the place, we drove up to one of the most rundown looking strip malls we have seen with a parking lot to match. We parked and saw no one inside except a guy watching college football. So we had a little conversation about whether or not to go inside. In the end, as an act of faith to our optometrist, we braved the empty mess hall.
It was two weeks after Hurricane Ike but when the server came to take our orders, he informed us that they had just gotten power the night before. Because of this, they only had 2 things on the menu that night and they just happened to be the two noodle soups we came to eat. Huzzah!
I didn't get a photo of my wife's bún riêu, but this was my bún bò Huế, which literally translates to "noodle beef Hue." FYI, Huế is a city in Viet Nam known for its Thai Hoa Palace, temples, monuments and spicy food. Like what I expected, it was spicy but came with a side of extra spiciness in case I needed more...and I did. The savory soup was infused with lemongrass, beef bones, chili peppers, and garnished with onions and cilantro. There was a side dish of shredded veggies to add, you know, to make it healthy. As a kid I never added the veggies because it didn't taste like anything in such a flavorful soup. However, now, it's a nice addition of texture to contrast the rich, fatty meats. What I didn't expect but was a welcomed surprised was that Kim Chau served the noodles with very traditional ingredients. So in addition to the beef shank and bones, there was also congealed pig blood, slices of Vietnamese pork sausage, pig knuckles, and enough MSG to make a horse twitch. Though I'm well aware of the controversy surrounding health matters related to MSG, the crystalline substance sure makes for good cooking. I was raised on MSG so I have no issues consuming foods laden with it (besides getting extremely thirsty after the meal), but I know several folks who swell up like a puffer fish because of it.
So in conclusion, I would definitely eat at Kim Chau again and MSG = yummy, if your body can handle it.