Back around 20 years ago, when we lived in Hoboken, we'd get in our car every single weekend and drive out to Nutley to have lunch at Little Saigon. Without fail. I can't imagine how many times we went to that place. And then we moved, and kind of moved on to different routines. And then Little Saigon burned to the ground in 2003. It was a big loss for the area, what with it being one of maybe two Vietnamese places around (and the best, I'd say).
Fast forward a few years, and the owner, Nghia, reopened Little Saigon in a much larger space in Montclair. We enjoyed a few meals there, but it never seemed the same.
Fast forward a few more years, and Little Saigon suddenly closes, and reappears back in Nutley as Huong Viet. Happy days.
We started as we always do, with spring rolls. I've been of the opinion that the spring rolls here are the best in all the land. And my opinion is correct. I don't know if it's a different wrapper that they're using, or what. But these are the gold standard as far as I'm concerned. Wrap 'em in that lettuce with a piece of mint and a blast of sriracha, dip in the nouc cham, and you've got yourself one glorious treat. Four of those glorious treats, in fact. Unlike some of the other places where you have to twist arms to get enough lettuce, Huong Viet brings out a big plate with more than enough. This is good.
I've had banh mi-on-the-brain for a few months now. Too often the descriptions on menus seem to describe a boring version of this classic sandwich. I rarely see pâté mentioned, for example. But at Huong Viet, you're getting what I have to think is the real deal. They even gut the bread so you get a balanced sandwich. Banh mi are awesome, bright, herbaceous sandwiches.
We've been comparing pho at restaurants to Huong Viet's for over 20 years. And they always fall short. It was great getting back to a proper pho. The broth is deep and rich, with a nice dose of star anise. As with the spring rolls, for me Huong Viet's pho is the gold standard. Accept no imitations.
The move with rare beef pho is to ask for the beef on the side. You'll get a plate of raw meat, which you can put in your pho as you go. It had been so long that I had forgotten my move! I think I've forgotten more than a few moves over the years.
Another thing that hasn't changed in two decades seems to be the price. Those three dishes (our entire lunch) ran 18 bucks and change. A finer value you will not find.
I've been recommending this place for longer than most food instagrammers have been alive. So trust me on this one. I'm old and know things damnit.
Huong Viet : 358 Passaic Ave : Nutley, NJ : 973.667.0827 : BYOB