Saigon Bistro, a new restaurant at 3123 E. Pawnee, might cause some confusion among Vietnamese food fans in Wichita.
It shares a first name with Wichita's most well-known Vietnamese eatery — Saigon at 1103 N. Broadway.
It shares a last name with a new Vietnamese restaurant about to open in east Wichita — Pho Hot Bistro at 306 N. Rock Road.
And it shares a close proximity to Pho Hot, another popular Vietnamese restaurant, which is just a few blocks to the west at 2409 E. Pawnee.
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Unraveling the confusion is worth it, though, because Saigon Bistro, though quite new, is already developing a following with its simple, fresh-tasting cuisine. It opened in late June.
ON THE MENU: The menu is similar to those at many local Vietnamese restaurants : Several vermicelli noodle dishes, lots of pho (a Vietnamese soup), several Vietnamese sandwiches, a list of other rice and noodle dishes, and a bunch of exotic smoothies and fruit drinks.
DON'T-MISS DISHES: We weren't sure what to expect from Saigon Bistro. Wichita already has so many excellent Vietnamese restaurants, how could a new one possibly compete?
But Saigon Bistro is just as good as its predecessors, and it offers its own unique twist on a lot of standard dishes. And the quality and freshness of the restaurant's ingredients — leafy herbs, crisp and colorful vegetables, plump seafood— makes it all taste like health food.
One of the best dishes was a bowl of pho Thai, a beef noodle soup made with thin slices of sirloin floating in a rich beef broth with sliced green onions, red onions and noodles and served with a heaping plate of fresh limes, basil, sliced jalapenos and bean sprouts. The soup was flavorful and filling and was as tasty as it was attractive.
Also delicious: a vermicelli noodle dish with shrimp, lettuce, cilantro, green onions and a sweet sauce on the side. We ordered the dish topped with what the menu called "grilled shrimp," but they appeared with a fried tempura coating. It was not what our health-nut dining companion had expected, but was tasty, nonetheless.
By far the most interesting dish we tried was a wok-fried noodle concoction called mi xao gion tom rau cai. (But you can call it K2.) It featured a giant nest of crispy egg noodles, and resting inside was shrimp and a variety of fresh vegetables, including snap peas, mushrooms, water chestnuts, cauliflower and more. The dish came with a nice sauce, which along with the juice from the vegetables, softened the noodles. It tasted a little bland at first, but the dish grew on us, and by the time it was gone, we were hooked.
AMBIENCE: The dining room, a large, clean open space with colorful lamps and upholstery, is sunny and cheerful. The whole front of the restaurant is windows, which floods it with sunlight and accentuates the colors of the fresh ingredients.
PRICE RANGE: Pho is $7.75 for a large (make that a huge) bowl, $6.75 for a regular and $5.75 for a small. Vermicelli dishes range from $6.50 to $7.85. Sandwiches are $3.
SERVICE: Good and fast.
Three forks out of four
Where: 3123 E. Pawnee, 316-683-0035
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Type of food: Vietnamese
Smoking: Not allowed