The first week of my freshman year, when I was already unimpressed with the food at Portola, my friend introduced me to a hole-in-the-wall gem of a restaurant: Saigon Noodle House. Today, I am five weeks away from graduating, and I still frequent this modest space of the best Vietnamese cuisine for my pho fix.
Before moving to Santa Barbara for college, I was not even aware of the existence of pho. I now know that it is a Vietnamese noodle soup, pronounced “fuh,” and it has become one of my most common cravings. Although we are spoiled with incredible weather in our humble para- dise, Spring Quarter does tend to surprise us with “June Gloom,” and nothing is more comforting than kickin’ it with a steaming bowl of soup on a chilly night.
Saigon Noodle House is one of the many establishments to serve pho in the Santa Barbara area, and although Isla Vista is home to its very own Pho Bistro, this restaurant is worth the extra five-minute drive to Goleta.
With a simple yet comprehensive menu, every customer can find food to fit their fancy. Ranging from items for the most adventurous taste buds to the more customary Asian- inspired dishes like chicken fried rice, culinary experts and amateur eaters alike will all leave with a full stomach and an amazed appetite due to the large portion sizes you will devour for not-so-large prices.
Traditionally, pho is served with beef cuts such as steak, brisket, flank, tendon, tripe or meatballs, but the more westernized selection offers chicken and grilled or fried tofu for eaters with dietary restrictions. Recently ranked No. 28 on CNN’s list of the World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods, the soup has become more well known in the past few years. Besides the piping hot broth, the flavorful bowl is filled with a generous amount of rice noodles, which are the staple component of the dish. Although the soup is
initially served with just broth, noodles and your choice of meat (or none for vegetarians), Saigon serves the dish with a platter of toppings including Asian condiments like spicy Sriracha hot sauce, red chili paste, soy sauce, white ground pepper and hoisin sauce. Other garnishes to finish off your meal including crunchy bean sprouts, juicy limes, sliced green and white onions, sliced jalapeño peppers, along with fresh basil, cilantro and sawtooth herb. All of these items combined create a tangy and flavorful delicacy that you can season to your liking, especially when it comes to spiciness.
Besides the famous pho, however, other main courses at Saigon Noodle House are just as delicious. Although I would recommend that everyone tries pho at least once, I am also a fan of the vermicelli, which is a big word for an amazing dry noodle bowl. Vermicelli is a thin rice noodle that is an integral part of several Asian cuisines. At this casual restaurant, the vermicelli bowls are similar to the pho, except without the broth. Instead, the numerous noodles are accompanied by more veggies, such as carrots and zucchini, and are tossed in a refreshing vinegar-based dressing. Unlike pho, the protein in these noodle bowls is grilled, rather than boiled, since there is no broth to cook the meat in. Although I have only tried the chicken, which is crispy and tender, you can also choose steak or a
vegetarian option of tofu or simply vegetables. Despite Saigon’s unique options, many Panda Express- loving college students still insist on eating fried rice as their main course. However, their version far surpasses the unhealthy offerings at Chinese fast food chains, because the chef uses natural ingredients such as fresh vegetables
and high-quality shrimp, tofu or meat of your choice. You may be questioning the satisfaction of your stom- ach with just fried rice, noodles or soup. At Saigon, the huge portions usually leave many customers asking for take-home containers, but the majority decide to stuff themselves because the food is just that good. And if you’re an eater with eyes bigger than your stomach, you can choose from a lengthy menu of starters such as egg rolls or spring rolls. These refreshing spring rolls, filled with shrimp, pork, fresh vegetables and mint leaves, are served cold with a side of thick peanut sauce — definitely save this creamy sauce for a noodle dip after the round of
appetizers. Out-of-this-world food, casual dining, unbeatable
prices and a friendly environment are enough to make this Vietnamese bistro your new lazy night hotspot, so go cleanse with steamy broth, fill up with chewy noodles and enjoy the aromas and flavors of Saigon Noodle House.