With another interview this week in Louisville, I had the opportunity to again sample some Vietnamese cuisine and I was not going to be denied. For anyone seeking authentic Vietnamese fare make the time for a visit to Cafe Thuy Van.
Located in an easily overlooked strip mall at 5600 National Turnpike #3, between Southside Drive and the Outer Loop, keep a sharp eye out for New Venture Drive, where you need to turn for parking.
It doesn’t look like much from the outside admittedly, nor does the surrounding territory, but park and venture in. The staff is friendly and will get you seated. Playing on a large flat screen television in the back of the restaurant by the kitchen entrance was the Vietnamese equivalent to an American variety show. It featured young, vibrant and colorful singers, offering a fusion of traditional and contemporary Vietnamese music that played as a soundtrack throughout the space. Apparently synchronized boy band moves transcend countries and political ideologies.
Up front there looks to be room for a DJ, and “Happy Birthday” wishes remain strewn across a mirror, from the looks of it for some time now. There’s a Buddha or two, several shrines with fresh offerings and a couple lightbox photos on the side wall showing pictures of the unique countryside found in Vietnam.
It’s low key, but a cool decor, clean and pleasant. It doesn’t take long to notice the native language is still spoken here mostly, which makes sense as the predominance of folks walking in are Vietnamese. I take that as a great sign I’m in the right place.
As I looked over the menu the Pho, noodle bowls and other dishes are prepared in a more traditional style than what is often found in Vietnamese joints around Kentucky. Instead of westernizing its selections to perhaps appeal to broader local stereotypes, there remains blood sausage or fermented shrimp paste to set these offerings apart.
The Bun Bo Hue (rice vermicelli bowl) has Central Vietnamese broth served with rice vermicelli, pig’s feet, beef flank and pork patty. The Hu Tieu Nam Vang (rice noodle bowl) offers rice noodles served in a pork broth topped with sliced pork, quail eggs and shrimp.
One special that jumped out at me was the Ca Kho To, a Vietnamese clay pot braised catfish in special sauce. Another was more of a curiosity. The Lau De is a special goat hot pot served with egg noodles and various vegetables. It costs $80 for a regular serving and $100 for a large. That is some “special” goat.
I was here to try the Pho (beef noodle soup). That is always a good comparison dish to see how a place stacks up against others. I’ll tell you Cafe Thuy Van is top flight.
Before I could order though I realized this was a “Cash Only” establishment. It was no biggie, as the food is modestly priced and there is an ATM inside the Marathon gas station/Dongar Food Mart & Deli on the corner of the strip mall. That place smells kind of funky and it stocks quite an odd assortment of merchandise, but it served its purpose.
Back at Cafe Thuy Van I ordered the Pho, with Vietnamese noodles served in a beef broth with thinly sliced beef, meat balls and brisket, topped with cilantro and scallions. Tripe is also available in this combo, but it’s not my thing.
My order of egg rolls came out first with a side of fish sauce. The pork, shrimp and vegetables were encased in a thin, crispy outer skin fried to a dark brown. Each roll broke crisply in my mouth and sprang with vibrant flavors. These are some tasty suckers.
The steaming bowl of Pho arrived, accompanied by a side dish of fresh mint, bean sprouts and a lime wedge. I added all this to the bowl along with Sriracha hot chili sauce, chili paste, fish sauce, hoisin and soy, turning the broth into a deep, rich brown color as it mixed with the fats from the meats. It was glorious!
There is a depth and richness that came with each spoonful. This broth is sufficient to be consumed by itself, but using chop sticks I fished up vermicelli noodles with chucks of beef and the other fresh ingredients that had me exclaiming its virtues out loud and sweating by bowl’s end.
Sadly, no beer is sold here, but the sweet tea was an able compliment to this spicy goodness. Check out the full assortment of interesting teas and specialty beverages available.
Next time you need a little adventure from the ordinary, take a short drive out to Cafe Thuy Van for an authentic dining experience.
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CAFE THUY VAN | 5600 National Turnpike #3 | 502-366-6959 | Menu