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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ha & VL - Portland - Oregon

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After eating my mom's Banh Canh Cua (Vietnamese Thick Noodle Soup with Crab), Darlene of Blazing Hot Wok and I went shopping at the Red, White, & Blue Thrift Store in Gladstone. Your friend comes all the way to see you and you take her thrift store shopping my mom asked? Yes, indeed! She found a nice winter coat and a pair of like-new Dansko shoes for $19.95. I got a pair of beige d'Orsay-style Manolo Blahnik pumps for $7.95! Sure they're a size-and-a-half too big, but they're Manolo Blahniks! For $7.95!

Afterward, I suggested checking out Ha & VL, a Vietnamese restaurant I had been meaning to try since my last trip home. I read a brief mention in The Oregonian about how the owner makes one type of soup each day and once it's gone, she closes up shop. Hmm. Must be pretty darn good for her to not open during dinner.

Ha is her name. The VL are her husband's initials. I remember the strip mall that Ha & VL is located in used to be a small motel. It's nice to see shops and restaurants there instead.

The decor is what I would call FOB "chic" -- vinyl tablecloths and fake flowers.

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We were there on a Tuesday, which meant Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup) day. Soups are $7.50.

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The broth was yummy. We slurped almost every last drop. As good as what I can get in SoCal. Hey! That's saying a lot for Portland!

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The plate of herbs isn't a lot, just the right amount for a bowl. No sliced banana blossoms like what I'd get in SoCal, but she gave me a small pot of Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste) and her special toasted chili pepper flakes.

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August 8, 2010 update:

When I was back in Portland in September 2009, I revisited Ha & VL with Darlene again.

We were there on a Wednesday, which meant Bun Moc Hanoi (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup with Pork Pepper Balls).

Mmm. The broth was so yummy. Seriously, like a homecooked bowl of noodles. I could tell there was a lot of care in the making of the broth. And she tops it off with fried shallots like my momma.

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Co Ha (Auntie Ha in Vietnamese) is from the North so she has several Northern-style soups that aren't too common in Portland. The other being Bun Thang (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup with Chicken, Egg, and Pork), available on Sundays.

Again, the herb plate is pretty standard and minimal.

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I also ordered a Ca Phe Sua Da (Vietnamese Ice Milk Coffee) that was rich and packed with caffeine.

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Darlene and I split a banh mi dac biet (Vietnamese special sandwich). The sandwich was good, nothing spectacular. It's her soup that is the real specialty here.

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Co Ha nicely wrote out the Vietnamese names for me since the menu lists the English translations. Ready?

Monday: Bun Rieu Cua Tom Oc (Vietnamese Crab and Shrimp Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup with Snails) (No snails in her version).

Tuesday: Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup)

Wednesday: Bun Moc Hanoi (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup with Pork Pepper Balls) (See picture above.)

Thursday: Banh Canh Cua (Vietnamese Thick Noodle Soup with Crab) (Not as good as my momma's, but then no one's is.)

Friday: Hu Tieu Nam Vang (Vietnamese Phnom Penh-Style Clear Noodle Soup) (Similar to my Hu Tieu Saigon (Vietnamese Clear Noodle Soup with Barbecued Pork and Shrimp) but with liver, fish balls, and squid.)

Saturday: Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup) and Bun Moc Hanoi (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup with Pork Pepper Balls)

Sunday: Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup) and Bun Thang (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup with Chicken, Egg, and Pork)

I asked Co Ha why she only opens for breakfast and lunch. Co Ha says she's too old to work all day. Plus, the quality of her soups would go down if she had to make so much. So, go early if you can because once her soup is gone, she closes up.

Oh, and Portland Yelpers, the only pho she serves is on Sunday. The rest of her soups are NOT pho. There are a lot of Vietnamese soups, way more than pho. Stop saying she serves lots of kinds of pho. Sheesh. I'm kinda embarrassed for my hometown.

Ha & VL has received a lot of love from Portland bloggers including,
Guilty Carnivore who can't decide between her Banh Canh Cua, Bun Moc Hanoi, Bun Thang, and Hu Tieu Nam Vang.
Eat. Drink. Think. also mentions the same article I saw in The Oregonian.

All Oregon posts can be found with the tag Series: Oregon, but I suggest reading this particular trip in this order:
PDX and My Parents' Chihuahuas
Salvador Molly's - Portland - Oregon
Why My Mom's Banh Canh Cua (Vietnamese Thick Noodle Soup with Crab) Is Better Than Your Momma's
Ha & VL - Portland - Oregon
Karma Cafe - Portland - Oregon
Oc Xao Nam He (Vietnamese Clams Sauteed with Mushrooms and Chives)
Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden - Grant Park - Portland - Oregon
Pok Pok - Portland - Oregon
Portland Farmers Market at PSU - Portland - Oregon
Downtown Portland - Oregon Redux
Mill Ends Park (Smallest Park in the World) - Portland - Oregon
Tabor - Portland - Oregon
Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen - Portland - Oregon 
Mom's Chao Vit (Vietnamese Rice Porridge with Duck)
Oriental Food Value Supermarket - Portland - Oregon
Mom's Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup)

Ha & VL
Wing Ming Market Center
2738 SE 82nd Ave., Ste. 103
Portland, OR 97266
Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Times are approximate. If she sells out of soup, she closes up early.

1 year ago today, one of my most popular recipes, Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup).
2 years ago today, The Edison - Los Angeles (Downtown).


  1. Wow, that's one establishment I'd like to visit: one day, one soup. I can definitely get behind that.

    Hm, I have to email you one of these days about Portland good eats. I'm thinking I should get down there one of these days since I've never been and it's only a 5-hour car trip away.

  2. Manola Blahniks for $7.95?? I need to go to that thrift store when I go to Vancouver. Just wanted to say hi and that I love your blog. I've made quite a few things and everything always turns out fabulous!

  3. Argh, next time I'm flying to Portland and renting a car....

  4. I'd love to go every day for different soups. And yes, the confusion around "different kinds of pho" is typical lol

  5. Oh MAN. You just made me so incredibly hungry and envious and I must be going a little crazy from the longing because that airy, bright decor did look on the chic side of kitsch!

  6. I giggled at this "
    Oh, and Portland Yelpers, the only pho she serves is on Sunday. The rest of her soups are NOT pho. There are a lot of Vietnamese soups, way more than pho. Stop saying she serves lots of kinds of pho. Sheesh. I'm kinda embarrassed for my hometown."

    These look so yummy, I'm going to have to dig around and find some recipes. Or try to get to Shreveport's only VN restaurant (that I know of) and see what other 'lots of kinds of pho' they serve there, ROFL!

  7. hi wc - hee hee - 'fob chic'! :)

    cool - another great place to check out when we go to portland (hopefully next year).

    i'd like to try those diff't soups.

    notice the restaurant in in SE - we loved that area when we were there!

  8. JS,
    If I opened a restaurant, a small but specialized menu would be the way to go. Quality control, but also keeps you from going insane trying to meet everyone's needs. Just click on the Oregon category tag, or look on my restaurants list. I aim to finish blogging my Oregon stuff soon!

    I think they actually meant to charge $17.95 for them as I saw the price listed under the shoe as that, but the person who wrote out the tag missed it because the 1 was pretty faint. Even then, it would have been a good deal.

    What recipes have you tried? Do tell!

    Was it winter that got you turned around? Go during summer or fall! Better weather anyway.

    But Portland has a lot of Vietnamese! Why aren't people getting it?

    Haha. I think you've been away from Vietnamese food for too long!

    Hehe. Oh yes, go see what other kinds of "pho" you can try. :P

    Ha! As if you're home often enough to go all the way to my side of town for this.

    Hopefully you'll get another chance to go. You can hit up the smallest park in the world on your next trip and add it to your quirky places list! SE is where most of the Asians live, hence, why the restaurants are there too.

  9. I really enjoyed reading your post about this place. It was very thorough, yet succinct.

    My family is from Hue and I grew up in San Jose. Her bun bo hue is very solid. A little sweet for my taste buds, but then I just add a lot of the fried chili and the heat overshadows the sweet. I don't typically add sauces to soup...the broth is usually great as is.

    My favorite soup is Hu Tieu Nam Vang. I really want to try it, but I'd have to take a Friday off work to make it happen. It can happen!

  10. Sandy,
    Thanks! I want to hit up some of the other days so I can try her other soups too, but I just take what I can get.

  11. Chi Ha now serves TWO soups a day (but is closed Tuesdays). Yay! You can often find Andy Ricker there. He knows where the good stuff is.

  12. Russell,
    Oooh. Two! I saw Andy the last time I dined there. Looked like he was in a business meeting to open something possibly? And then the guy he had a meeting with was on my flight back to LA.


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