Monday, May 25, 2015

Mỹ Hương Kitchen - A Slice of Vietnam in Minnesota

I've eaten at hundreds of Vietnamese restaurants all over North America and the Asia-Pacific regions, ranging from holes-in-the wall to high-end, and hands down I've had no better Vietnamese food or dining experience than at Mỹ Hương Kitchen in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Nicollet Avenue is a Minneapolis street made famous in the opening scenes of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but the area south of downtown between W 28th and W 25th is better known as a gold mine of ethnic food choices, including several Vietnamese favorites like the popular Quang just across the street. The area has been a magnet for us on weekend road trips to the Twin Cities, and we've tried several of the offerings in this neighborhood called "Eat Street." But once we passed through the door of Mỹ Hương Kitchen, we stopped our search for the perfect phở.

Perhaps it's the focus on doing a few things, but doing them very well. The menu is small like the restaurant, but everything is prepared at the peak of freshness and can be modified special to order. One of my sons always has chicken substituted for shrimp in his spring rolls. The standard Gỏi cuốn rolls (with shrimp) are the best I've ever tasted. The signature phở tai, Vietnamese rare beef and noodle soup, has a rich, hearty bone broth superior to the better known local venues. Scallions and seasonings are served directly in the bowl, so make any special requests up front. Neither the bún (noodle) bowls nor the phở suffer the standard bean sprout filler, a rarity at Vietnamese eateries. My Bún thịt nướng chả giò is always filled with noodles, veggies, crispy eggrolls and pork to the bottom of the bowl.

Spring rolls, specially made with tender chicken for my son.

To drink, I always have a royal black bubble tea, made with condensed milk reminiscent of "Thai tea" but richer. The boba are a perfect consistency. Kids love the mango and lychee bubble smoothies made with real fruit; they don't taste like something made from a syrup.

And the service is superb. Too many Asian restaurants are formulaic, with prompt but abrupt service and no personal attention. But at Mỹ Hương Kitchen, Tracy (the owner) treats all diners like close friends whenever she can squeeze a moment between busy tables and ensures your experience is perfect. At each each visit she has given my sons genuine special attention, often a little extra snack for free, and she remembers us from previous stops. The restaurant was closed recently for a portion of February; Tracy said she didn't want her customers to experience any drop in service and food preparation standards while she was on vacation.

There are solid dessert offerings. Today my youngest son was given a tapioca, mung bean and coconut milk confection (che) as a gift for the road. There are also excellent French crepes served with whipped cream that can be a main course or shared after the meal. We tried a Nutella and Cream. Tracy asked if we'd like it served with banana folded in, "in case the nutella is too boring by itself." It was superb either way.

More than once, we've left with a gift from this refrigerator to try.

Little did I know that I'd find the real taste of Vietnam so close to home, and a little bit of an extended family.

Located at 2718 Nicollet Avenue, hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 am to 9:00 pm  and Sunday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.  Seating is small, only five or six tables, but there is parking (a rarity in the Eat Street district). Mỹ Hương Kitchen is closed on Mondays.