100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 53, Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho

The Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho is unique and not for everyone, but I love it.
The Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho is unique and not for everyone, but I love it.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape. It's a list to drool over.

When you just describe it to someone, it doesn't sound very appetizing.

Thick, translucent noodles reminiscent of clear Gummi worms but with a starchy flavor. Spicy broth with golden rounds of oil floating on top. Chewy pink dumplings of ground shrimp and some sort of emulsifier. Mmm.

But really, the Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho is one of my favorite meals in Houston. It helps that our office is close enough to Simply Pho to make it a quick lunch, but I've also found the shrimp paste soup to be incredibly soothing on a cool day. Add a little extra Sriracha and Hoisin sauce, and it'll clear your sinuses too.

I'd never heard of Bánh Canh Hue before I ate at Simply Pho for the first time, and I'd definitely never had anything like those slimy noodles at any other restaurant. They're the defining feature of the soup, with a texture so unusual that I immediately found myself hooked, fighting with my chopsticks to move noodle after noodle from the bowl to my mouth.

As the noodles soak, they take on the flavor of the liquid around them, which itself tastes like a milder version of the little cubes of shrimp floating in it. The rosy-hued dumplings of finely ground shrimp and garlic dotted with black pepper are equally alluring, if a bit unpleasant-looking. They're kind of like hot dogs in that respect. You sort of know what's in them, but you don't really want to look too closely or find out for sure.

Simply Pho serves bean sprouts; lush, leafy basil; jalapeños; bird's-eye chiles; and lime wedges along with the bowl of broth, noodles and shrimp dumplings. It's almost like a build-your-own soup. It's up to you to discover the perfect ratio of sprouts to chiles to Hoisin sauce, and there's definitely no wrong answer.

I have yet to finish an entire $7.95 bowl of Bánh Canh Hue from Simply Pho, though one day I hope to be able to conquer the huge serving. It doesn't save well (the noodles go from gummy to soggy after a while), but at a price like that, who needs two meals out of it? One is delicious enough.

The list so far: No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga No. 55: The Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow No. 54: Kimchi Koagie at Koagie Hots


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