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Ba Mien Bistro Brings Elegance and Taste to a Ubiquitous Cuisine

At Ba Mien, Vietnamese food goes upscale.

When Ba Mien first opened, I'm told, the food veered even more toward traditional, with sinewy pig knuckles and cubes of congealed pig's blood making appearances in the bun bo Hue, a spicy beef broth soup. Diners weren't so sure about congealed pig's blood, though, so the kitchen has since tweaked the menu and recipes to make the food more appealing to the average Houstonian. The bun bo Hue is reminiscent of pho, only spicier, brinier and more sour, and the thick, chewy vermicelli noodles transform it into a hearty and filling dish.

The pho is less exciting — not quite salty or beefy enough. The thinly sliced brisket swirling in the broth is flavorful and tender, but the soup itself needs more star anise, more cinnamon, more coriander and more fish sauce. In the absence of such things at my table, I found myself adding generous squirts of both hoisin sauce and Sriracha to elicit as much flavor from the subtle bowl of soup as possible.

A rice plate with grilled chicken was also disappointing; the chicken was grilled nearly to death. It had a nice, savory char, but was cooked to the point that it was devoid of juice, almost like chicken jerky. The hand-rolled egg rolls are perfectly crispy on the outside, but the meat on the inside is bland and takes on too much oil from the frying.

Banh mi and pho don't need to feel like cheap meals. At Ba Mien, Vietnamese food goes upscale.
Troy Fields
Banh mi and pho don't need to feel like cheap meals. At Ba Mien, Vietnamese food goes upscale.

Location Info

Map

Ba Mien Bistro

5102 FM 1960 Road W
Houston, TX 77069

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Jersey Village

Details

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m to 9 p.m.

Grilled pork spring rolls (2): $4
Chile basil wings (5): $7
Beef noodle soup (pho bo): $8
Hue style spicy beef noodle soup (bun bo Hue): $7.50
Grilled chicken rice plate: $7
Spicy tofu rice plate: $7
Grilled pork banh mi: $4
Assorted macarons: $2



For more on Ba Mien Bistro:

Slideshow: A Closer Look at Ba Mien Bistro
Blog: A Step Back in Time to French Indochina At Ba Mien Bistro


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In spite of a few less appealing dishes, Ba Mien's short menu continues to surprise me when I make my way out there. Recently, I ordered a spicy tofu rice plate to go, and found I'd eaten nearly every fried cube of tofu right out of the Styro­foam box with my fingers by the time I'd made it home. Unlike a lot of fried tofu, Ba Mien's manages to stay light and firm even after being doused in hot oil. The thin, spicy sauce of jalapeños, garlic and soy sauce surrounding the tofu is simple, salty and full of fresh chile-pepper flavor. This is something the Vietnamese definitely did not get from the French, but the Gallic country would have been wise to take some lessons in Vietnamese spice before they were ousted in the 1950s.

The classic banh mi illustrates beautifully the ideal fusion of French and Vietnamese that Ba Mien Bistro evokes through its food and atmosphere. Crusty French bread envelops thick strips of peppery grilled pork, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, jalapeños and onions. Vietnamese pâté and mayonnaise — vestiges from the colonial era — add richness to the light, crunchy sandwich, and a fried egg on top, ubiquitous though they may be these days, completes the consummate fusion of modest Vietnam and its gourmandizing invader.
_____________________

When I first started this job, I got a lot of comments from readers advising me to get outside the Loop and explore what else Houston has to offer. Those of us who live in the Loop can develop a mind-set according to which anything and everything you could ever want is contained within the confines of Interstate 610. Much of the food writing in this town reflects that mentality, and in doing so it ignores some treasures that reside just a little farther down the road.

I once made the comment that the Galleria was so far away and such a long drive, and was quickly corrected. A 15-minute drive is not a long drive. A 40-minute drive isn't even a long drive in Houston. Having grown up in a city where one can drive from one side to the other in 20 minutes, I'm still getting accustomed to traveling such a distance for food (though, to be fair, I'd gladly fly hours for some authentic Hungarian goulash or a French salade niçoise).

So here's the question I grappled with over my banh mi, cafe sua da and macarons: Would I come back to Ba Mien Bistro just for the food, or would I continue to frequent my haunts in Midtown and Chinatown? Is it worth the drive?

Even after dining there several times, I hadn't made up my mind until I went to fill up my car with gas earlier this week and did some math. It was $2.97 a gallon. It takes about 2.8 gallons to drive from my apartment to Ba Mien Bistro and back. That's $8.35 with my car's gas mileage.

If paying that means I can get more of Ba Mien's chile basil wings, pork spring rolls and banh mi, I'll gladly pay the fuel surcharge. It's still pretty darn cheap for what you get.

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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8 comments
VespaTex
VespaTex

We live close after moving from ITL last year and were thrilled to find them. We are definitely regulars. I would not like to see them change the Pho broth - it's perfect IMHO, but I would love to see them bring back the pate chaud - it was really, really good!


My kids love the Pho and Chicken Wings and one of them is an incredibly picky eater, so clearly they do miracles at Ba Mien. :-)

jlvan62
jlvan62

we love this place!

it's my understanding that eggs are served on the Banh mi in Vietnam…you can ask for it without egg

Thuy Vi Le
Thuy Vi Le

For real. Banh mi doesn't need eggs, lol.

kcfood
kcfood

My husband and I love Ba Mien. We dine there at least once a week and sometimes more. The grilled pork is my favorite in the spring rolls as well as on the rice plate. The grilled pork is much more savory than the chicken in my personal opinion. The chicken wings are delectable. We love this small quaint restaurant and hope it stays around a while.

Keith Freitag
Keith Freitag

Stop putting eggs on stuff that doesn't need it.

bodl
bodl

Thanks for addressing the ITL mentality. More Metro Houstonians live OTL than ITL & you try to address all. Nice review!

I live near very near Ba Mien, but have never tried it due to all the other Viet places in NW Houston / NW Harris County. Thanks for the rec!

 
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