Pho Saigon Bistro: Vietnamese cuisine comes to Granite Quarry
By Katie Scarvey
Until recently, you couldn’t find a Vietnamese restaurant in Rowan County. But that wasn’t because there wasn’t a taste for Vietnamese food locally.
Once you’ve been exposed, it’s hard to resist the lure of this flavorful Asian cuisine, which is often said to be among the healthiest in the world, with its emphasis on fresh vegetables and sparing use of oil.
Saigon Bistro in Charlotte, which opened on Sharon Amity Road about five years ago, was attracting enthusiastic customers not only from the Queen City but from Salisbury, Rockwell and China Grove ó who began urging the owners to open a restaurant in the Salisbury area.
It took about a year to think about that, says Michael Bui.
Bui, who is Vietnamese, is part of the family team launching the new Pho Saigon Bistro in Granite Quarry, which has been open for about three weeks. Located in a strip mall near Fred’s, the restaurant has taken over what was formerly office space.
Although the atmosphere is rather bland, the food is anything but.
Business has been good so far, with many repeat customers already, Michael says.
The business is owned by Michael’s cousins, sisters Sandy and Quin Nguyen, who also own a nail salon in Granite Quarry.
Sandy’s husband John ó whose brothers own Saigon Bistro in Charlotte ó runs the kitchen.
Peter Bui, Michael’s son and a business major at North Carolina State University, waits tables. Friendly and accommodating, Peter enjoys making recommendations from the bistro’s extensive menu ó and as someone who grew up with traditional Vietnamese food, he’s an able guide for those who are new to it.
The dishes at Saigon Bistro are very traditional, Peter says.
“I could go home and my mom could be making any of these dishes,” he says.
One traditional beverage he hasn’t tried is the “club soda with chicken egg, ” one of the menu’s more interesting offerings.
Last Wednesday, Andy Chmiel of Salisbury was picking up his fourth meal from Pho Saigon Bistro.
He loves the restaurant’s signature dish ó pho, or rice noodle soup.
Chmiel, who is half Vietnamese, makes pho at home and says the broth takes about five hours to make.
Pho Saigon Bistro’s version, he says, is “probably some of the best I have had.
“Before, you’d have to go to Charlotte for this.”
The pho is described on the menu as “beef broth, herbs and spices simmered to create a delicious aromatic meal, served with fresh bean sprouts, basil, chili and lime.”
If you’re thinking that a rice noodle soup can’t satisfy a hearty appetite, think again.
I ate a bowl for lunch and while I enjoyed it immensely, the portion was so generous I could not finish it. Even so, for one dollar more, diners can upsize to an “XL” bowl if they want. The restaurant serves up 11 different kinds of pho. There are numerous rice (com) dishes as well, with many featuring grilled meat or seafood.
Diners can order the Vietnamese hot pot, or lau, a family-sized combination of meats and seafood with vermicelli and vegetables cooked in a lemon grass broth.
For the adventurous, chef specials include several dishes that diners cook on a mini-burner and assemble themselves at their tables.
Vegetarians will find a good selection of dishes to choose from and will be impressed that the restaurant makes its own tofu.
There is also a variety of bun, vermicelli noodles served with various grilled meats and seafood over shredded lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, mint leaf.
The summer and spring rolls are popular appetizers.
The summer rolls are made with translucent rice paper wrapped around pork, shrimp, lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber and mint and served with a peanutty hoisin dipping sauce. Served cold, they are lovely and light and perfect for a sweltering Salisbury summer.
The fried spring rolls are are also delectable, made with ground pork and vegetables. This heavier appetizer is served with the lighter house dipping sauce, called nuoc cham.
One popular dish is a crispy crepe ó banh xeo ó stuffed with shrimp and pork. The traditional way to eat this dish is to wrap pieces of the crepe in lettuce and then dip them into the house sauce.
For a sweet summer refresher, try the “bubble tea,” sort of a cross between a fruit slushie and a milkshake.
Bubble tea, which comes in many different flavors, features black tapioca “pearls” at the bottom which can be sucked up through a straw.
The pearls, Michael informed me, have the consistency of Gummi Bears. After trying the taro flavor and biting into a pearl, I discovered he was right.
Other drink offerings include Vietnamese coffee, a homemade soybean drink called sua dau nanh and exotic shake varieties including avocado, soursop, durian and jackfruit.
Pho Saigon Bistro is located at 910 N. Salisbury Ave. in Granite Quarry. Hours are 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, with hours extended until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Takeout is available.