We were really excited to welcome a new Vietnamese restaurant to the U street area this week, particularly since the menu features a good number of vegetarian options.
In Vietnam, pho is considered street food, often served at tables on the sidewalk. Hanoi House, however, is dressed to impress. Walking in, you’re enveloped in Orient chic – a beautiful combination of vintage lamps, mirrors, velvet curtains, shiny black booths, and red walls.
Dinner started promisingly, with light, green garden rolls stuffed with herbs and served with hoisin peanut sauce. A sauce of fresh red chilis added a nice kick.
All three of us moved on to pho, passing over the menu’s other vegetarian offerings – tofu banh mi, bun (vermicelli salad), and rice flour crepes with tofu and mushroom.
Unfortunately, it just didn’t live up to our expectations. Yes, the fried tofu was spongy and light, but you can’t have good pho without good broth. This broth, although brown and rich-looking, was surprisingly flavorless. Salt and condiments helped a bit but everyone was disappointed. Also – minor quibbles, but they certainly didn’t help – the pho arrived warm, rather than hot, turning lukewarm by the time we finished, and although lots of vegetables aren’t a requirement in traditional pho, we would have appreciated some broccoli or carrots or cabbage to round things out.
The saving grace was my drink. Multiple-ingredient cocktails can tend to end up disappointingly bland or not well-balanced, but the Silk Road, with tea, coconut milk, rum, and vanilla, was complex and delicious. If the pho had more flavor, washing it down with this drink would have been perfect.
I’ll probably come back for a cocktail at the gorgeous bar, and if you’re in the area you should too. I may even be tempted to try the banh mi sandwich at some point, only because vegetarian versions are pretty rare. But when it’s pho you’re craving, skip Hanoi House and head straight to Pho 14 in Columbia Heights.