PHO BINH MINH
Neighbourhood: West End
Address: 819 Sargent Avenue
Entrees: $14 – $18
The popularity and demand for Vietnamese food is at an all time high. Pho has joined chicken noodle as the quintessential comfort food and banh mi’s popularity ranking is spilling beyond fringe sandwich status. Dishes, like chanh chua tom (sweet and sour shrimp soup), have gone from rare specialty dishes to mainstays in a few short decades, placing Pho Binh Minh right in the middle of a golden era of Vietnamese food in Winnipeg.
This under the radar Vietnamese shop is the kind of spot Anthony Bourdain would have championed: subtly tucked in a no-frills strip mall on Winnipeg’s Eat Street (a.k.a West End) offering complex flavours in many forms. Family owned, attractively appointed, the extensive menu of nearly 200 items offers newbies and Vietnamese cuisine connoisseurs alike a smorgasbord of choices spanning Chinese influences in the culture. On top of being spoiled for choice, affordability (every menu item is under $20) amps up its lure as a frequent go-to spot.
Appetizers run the gamut from goi cuon salad rolls to chicken wings. Banh xeo, made from rice flour flavoured with turmeric means “sizzling cake”, and is Vietnam’s version of a savoury French crepe filled with bean sprouts, pork, shrimp. Light and delicate, the batter is reminiscent of Japanese tempura, and is second to none when dipped in the sweet savoury nuoc cham fish sauce.
Go xoai tom ga is a vibrant dish that delivers a mouth-watering combination of sweet, sour and salty with lots of contrasts in texture. Pho Binh Minh’s version of the popular mango salad swaps cabbage and sweet ripe mangoes for traditional unripe green slices and is loaded with plump shrimp and pieces of poached chicken. Thai basil, peanuts, puffy shrimp crackers and nuoc cham laced dressing accentuates the exciting medley.
Bowls aplenty are teeming with robust broths, perfectly braised meats, rice noodles, fresh salad greens and leafy herbs. Deluxe salad bowls seduce the senses with smoky charred tender meats and crisp spring rolls topped with Thai basil’s floral notes. Opt for bodacious bun neu and revel in the briny bites of crabmeat and delicate sausage swimming in a tomato-based broth brimming with noodles.
Take a detour from familiar dishes and you may just get a taste of a heavenly homestyle dish that enlivens your culinary adventure. Ca kho to, served smoking hot in a claypot bubbles in its unctuous juices. The caramelized braised fish dish bursts with flavour, adding subtle sweetness to any feast.
With each richly textured dish, it is easy to see how Pho Binh Minh’s soulful flavours make it a top contender in the city’s wealth of Vietnamese offerings.