If you're looking for a good bowl of pho to slurp, you don't have to head to North Dade. Miami has a secret weapon for when you don't want to drive all the way to Green Papaya or deal with the quirks of Hy Vong.
Little Saigon offers the little bowl of pho that could. This respectable dish costs $6.50 for a small (still a meal in itself) and $8.50 for a large. The broth has some depth, with notes of star anise and cinnamon. The beef is fatty and sliced thinly. The rice noodles linger at the bottom of the bowl, and the plate of toppings allows you to customize it.
Squirt some hot sauce, squeeze some lemon, tear the cilantro, and add bean sprouts. You have a winning bowl for a rainy day.
See also: Miami's Best Pho
The main trouble with Little Saigon is the big menu. It features more than 170 items, and some of the dishes simply don't measure up. On a recent trip, when venturing away from the soup and toward a simple Hainan-style chicken dish, I was left with a salt bomb and my craving remained unfulfilled. This dish was light years away from the one I had hoped for.
However, the pho delivered the goods in one solid bowl. Another dish that hit the mark was the chả giò ($3.50). These Vietnamese-style spring rolls come wrapped in rice paper fried to a golden brown and then intended to be wrapped again in lettuce before dipped in nước chấm, a sauce that hits sweet, salty, sour, and spicy in one dunk. With the outer lettuce wrap, you can almost fool yourself into believing you are eating something healthy. But the lettuce doesn't act like a paper towel sopping up excess grease from a pizza slice; you'll eventually consume the grease from these spring rolls.
Initially I was disappointed that this dish came with only two rolls, but they are sliced in a way that made me feel like I had much more. And though the taste didn't match that of some other versions I've tried, it still sated my craving, and the price made my wallet happy.
The greatest thing about Little Saigon is that with the pho and the rolls, you can build a hefty two-course meal $10, a challenge in this city.
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For something sweet, Little Saigon offers a range of boba teas, red bean and white bean treats, and Vietnamese gelatin desserts. But your best bet is the selection of fresh whole coconuts, which take up the entire entryway and display case. They're $3 each or $3.50 if you want a server to hack one for you. I found myself jealous of every table diggin into this nectar of the gods while slurping bowls of pho.
Little Saigon has been serving Vietnamese food in North Miami Beach since 1996, and though it offers more menu items than it can execute well, this place hits the spot for no-frills Vietnamese at reasonable prices.
Follow Carina on Twitter @CarinaOst