The Best Vietnamese Food to Order for Beginners

Vietnamese Stuffed Chicken Wings


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Vietnamese food vendor on local market

Flavors of Southeast Asia

There's an endless list of things to love about Vietnamese food. By 2014 there were nearly 9,000 Vietnamese restaurants in the United States, which means it would be unsurprising to see that number surpass 10,000 this year. Specializing in soups, noodles, and even sandwiches, Vietnamese restaurants can be known to have Cheesecake Factory-sized menus, and it can be a little daunting to figure out just what to order. Here are 10 Vietnamese dishes to try out, all delicious and none containing any pho-based puns.

Related: Amazing Global Cuisines in U.S. Cities You Wouldn't Expect

Pho Vietnam
Andrew H./Yelp

Phở (Noodle Soup)

You have probably at least heard of pho, the noodle soup that put Vietnamese restaurants on the map in America. Herbaceous and aromatic, pho is the definition of soul food. A standard American bowl of pho will include vermicelli noodles, cilantro, bean sprouts, jalapeño, and plenty of mint. You'll probably want to add some Sriracha and hoisin sauce, too.

Related: Iconic Foods to Try From Countries Around the World

banh mi
Wilder Shaw/Cheapism

Bánh Mì (Sandwich)

To experience a bánh mì is to experience everything that's wonderful about food. It's one of my favorite sandwiches on the planet, delivering on every aspect of what makes a sammy so great. Traditionally, you'll find a bánh mì made on a French baguette (colonization and all) and stuffed with some sort of meat (usually pork and pâté), cilantro, fresh jalapeño, cucumber, and pickled carrots and daikon radish. We've got salt, we've got fat, we've got acid, and we've got heat. I love you, bánh mì.

Related: How Many of These Bucket-List Sandwiches Have You Tried?

vietnamese nuoc cham
su-lin/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Nước Chắm (Dipping Sauce)

If you are eating at a Vietnamese restaurant and there is no nước chắm to be found, you should probably leave. A classic table-side condiment, nước chắm is made from fish sauce; it's sweet, sour, and tangy. Dunk your spring rolls in it. Dunk your bánh mì in it. Dunk your whole dang head in it.

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Vietnamese Stuffed Chicken Wings

Cánh Gà (Chicken Wings)

You like wings, don't you? ’Course you do, you're a human being with a heart and soul. Cánh Gà is often made with plenty of fish sauce, garlic, and black pepper for those distinctly Vietnamese flavors. 

vietnamese bun cha
stu_spivack/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Bún Chả (Meatballs)

Bún Chả meatballs, like many Vietnamese foods, are often made from pork and served with plenty of vermicelli, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs. Make sure you've got an order on your table at all times.

Delicious Vietnamese Crepe or Pancake Banh Xeo

Bánh Xèo (Savory Crepe)

Here's a fun one. These sizzling, savory, egg-based crepes are made in a hot skillet and can be stuffed with pork belly, shrimp, mustard greens, bean sprouts, and more.

Fresh Spring Roll, Vietnamese Food.

Gỏi Cuốn (Spring Rolls)

Unlike most foods, gỏi cuốn offers newbies a perfect peek at what's to come. Shrimp and fresh veggies find themselves rolled up in translucent rice paper, which is sticky enough to make for a perfect dipping vessel. Pop quiz! What's the name of the condiment you'll be dipping with?

vietnamese rau muong water spinach morning glory
Andy Wright/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Rau Muong (Morning Glory)

No Vietnamese meal is complete with a plate of garlicky greens to help round out the fatty, fishy flavors you're tasting. Rau muong is not unlike other Asian water spinaches, known more often to us as morning glory.

Shrimp Fried Rice

Cơm Chiên (Fried Rice)

Cơm Chiên, or fried rice, should be an easy one for any beginner. Fried rice is a beautiful thing, and Vietnamese restaurants do it exceptionally well. If oxtail is a meat option, don't sleep on it.

Chả giò
Lou Stejskal/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Chả Giò (Egg Rolls)

You know what you're getting into here. Crispy, golden egg rolls are one of this world's greatest pleasures, and any Vietnamese restaurant worth its salt will serve you some tasty ones.