What chicken soup is to the Jewish culture, pho is to the Vietnamese. A steaming bowl of this soup seemed just the right thing on a recent windy, wintry night. It must have been calling to lots of other folks, too: college students, families from the neighborhood, even an acquaintance from Fall River, who was making a regular stop on his way home. Though HON (House of Noodles) wasn’t the first Vietnamese restaurant in Rhode Island, it was a treat to find a menu full of pho options when Quyen Lee opened her restaurant in 2001.
There are 15 versions of this chicken-or-beef broth-based soup at HON; nine of them are served with “rare steak,” which can be paired with meatballs, brisket, tripe, or beef flank. Other variations have chicken, seafood, pork, or tofu with vegetables (and the option of a veggie broth). Most have rice noodles (the namesake pho, pronounced, “fuh”), but some have egg noodles. All are accompanied by a big plate of mung bean sprouts, sliced limes, stems of fresh Thai basil, and jalapenos, to be added according to the diner’s taste. We took home a tofu/veggie pho (large: $6.25), which made a scrumptious lunch for both of us.
But our supper that evening started with the old standby of nime chow, the Cambodian name for goi cuón, the fresh spring rolls with shredded lettuce and mint, rice vermicelli, and in this case, shrimp, wrapped tight in rice paper and served with a peanut sauce (two for $3.50). We enjoyed HON’s thicker peanut sauce, since it is often just rice vinegar with chopped peanuts.
Bill was drawn to the roasted quail ($3.95), perhaps remembering long-ago days when he bagged a few in California with his .22 (shudder). This time, the small bird had been basted with lemongrass, sesame seeds, and a five-spice mix, and he found the two halves quite satisfying.
We shared a soup quite different from pho, billed as HON’s curry chicken soup (“regular”: $5.95). This was a generous portion of a lemongrass-flavored potage, with plenty of chicken, carrots, onions, and potatoes. It was a bit fiery, a bit savory, and utterly addicting.
For entrées, Bill chose a bánh hói, a traditional steamed vermicelli patty, with a choice of toppings which you roll up yourself inside a piece of softened rice paper — similar to the Chinese moo shi, but a bit trickier. Bill chose the “house sampler,” which was grilled pork, grilled shrimp on a sugar cane stick, and a tight fried egg roll ( $12.95). The shrimp and egg roll were tasty, but the pork pieces were fatty, so there was a lot of picking apart before Bill could enjoy it with the vermicelli, lettuce, and tomato.
I chose an item from the “chef specialties” that turned out to be quite a bit of work as well: the steamed flounder ($25.95 for the whole fish!). It was carefully poached before being served in a thinned soy sauce with tons of chopped ginger and slivered scallions — these bright tastes were a wonderful complement to the flounder. Getting the sweet flesh off the bones, however, was quite a challenge, and I’d make a different choice the next time.
HON’s décor is modest, with two distinct dining rooms, one with six booths along the sides, and two round tables in the middle of the room. The faux brick on the walls gives it a much darker feel than the other room with its white walls and bright lights. The stark difference is most likely because Quyen Lee doubled the capacity of the restaurant during the first year of business.
The HON menu has many intriguing beverages, including fruit shakes in startling colors that were ordered by a table full of students, from a choice of strawberry, pineapple, coconut, avocado, jack fruit, durian, or mung bean flavors, blended with ice and sweetened condensed milk. I noticed two green, one orange, and one yellow shake. Which color would durian, that unusual-smelling melon, be?
During the month of February, HON was serving a free dessert with the purchase of a dinner, and it turned out to be warm sticky rice with sweetened condensed milk on top. Similar to rice pudding, it also seemed to contain mung beans and was quite delicious.
With a menu that stretches from pho to bubble tea, and with 20 chef specialties that utilize salmon, catfish, soft-shelled crab, scallops, shrimp, lobster and squid, HON offers many meals yet to be discovered. And more than 100 of them don’t even include the signature noodles.
HON | 790 Reservoir Ave, Cranston | Sun-Thurs, 10 am-9 pm, Fri-Sat, 10 am-11 pm | Major credit cards | Wine + Beer | Sidewalk-level access | 401.946.2188