Oregon is home to the fifth-largest population of Vietnamese Americans in the U.S. (and 2% of the population of Portland), where they’ve brought along their rich and bright cuisine to the Pacific Northwest. For those celebrating Tết, the Vietnamese lunar new year (this year on January 22, 2023), events take place at locations like Washington Square Mall, where families enjoy food, dances and shows. For the rest of the year, you can enjoy inviting Vietnamese cuisine, from steamy noodle soups to nourishing sandwiches. Here are my personal recommendations for the Portland region, and several spots enjoyed by Vietnamese food lovers in the nearby Willamette Valley.
Cozy Soups and Hearty Dishes
There is no shortage of excellent Vietnamese restaurants in Southeast Portland. James Beard-nominated Hà VL and sister restaurant Rose VL Deli are both known for exceptional noodle soups. With a rotating menu featuring two to three different daily specials, like the turmeric yellow noodle soup (mì quảng), get there early since they often sell out. Bún Bò Huế restaurant is named after a rich, spicy noodle soup with beef, pork, pork knuckles and gelatin-like pork blood cubes in a lemongrass beef stock.
Also on the east side, Phở Hùng, Miss Saigon Bistro and Phở Kim are neighborhood favorites that feel like a family’s home kitchen. Phở Hùng offers more than a dozen classic phở choices, with add-ins like brisket, flank and meatballs. Miss Saigon Bistro is one of the few places that serve sweet and sour catfish soup and thịt kho, a hearty dish of caramelized pork belly with eggs. After a fire shut down Phở Kim during the pandemic, the restaurant has reopened to serve dishes like bánh bèo, savory steamed rice cakes that melt in your mouth.
Vietnamese Vegan and Gluten-Free Specialties
Vegans can also indulge in some of their favorite Vietnamese dishes. In 2005 a Buddhist nun opened the vegetarian spot Van Hanh in a former temple in Southeast Portland. The barbecue “pork belly” noodle dish features the house-made faux pork with springy, rolled rice noodles and fresh vegetables. The popular Southeast Portland vegan eatery Mama Dut’s menu changes frequently, with specialties like steamed buns stuffed with faux meat and kimchi aioli.
Diners who avoid gluten will love Butterfly Belly near the North Park Blocks, with an exclusively gluten-free menu. Its self-proclaimed “world’s only 48-hour bone broth beef pho” is a labor of love.
Bánh Mì, Comfort Food and Coffee
To get your bánh mì fix, make a pit stop at one of many Portland shops serving this popular Vietnamese baguette sandwich. Typically filled with meat and garnished with cilantro and pickled vegetables, there are vegetarian versions as well. Best Baguette — with two shops in Portland and one in Beaverton — includes a version with simmered meatballs. In Northeast Portland, House of Bánh Mì has 17 options to choose from, including fried-onion tofu with spicy mayonnaise. Across the street, Bui Natural Tofu is a busy deli for those on the go. Before the lunch rush, choose from the best selection of comfort food, like rice noodle rolls (bánh cuốn), and some house-made fresh tofu.
Also in Southeast, coffee roastery Portland Cà Phê specializes in beans grown prolifically in the central highlands of Vietnam and roasted in Portland. The Vietnamese coffee (cà phê sữa) and ube latte are must-trys.
Fusion Menus From Inspired Chefs
For date night, try the Vietnamese-inspired seasonal tasting menu at Berlu, specializing in Vietnamese classics reinterpreted by James Beard semifinalist chef Vince Nguyen in Southeast Portland. On Sundays Berlu’s bakery sells delectable gluten- and dairy-free Vietnamese pastries. Northeast food cart MATTA serves up “a Việt Kiều experience” — a term used for overseas-born Vietnamese people, like co-owner Richard Le. The dishes are steeped in the flavors of both Vietnam and America, with items like fish sauce-infused hamburgers and fish and chips made with coconut milk-marinated catfish nuggets.
Cocktails also get the fusion treatment, with delicious results. Friendship Kitchen‘s playful fare includes offerings like Hennything Is Possible, made with Hennessy cognac — a favored liquor in Vietnamese culture — and a blend of fruity flavors. Stop in to downtown Lúc Lác for a bowl of late-night phở and a drink like chrysanthemum Long Island iced tea or nonalcoholic durian horchata.
Classic Dishes, Sauces and More Just Outside of Portland
West of Portland, Beaverton’s beloved Tân Tân Cafe & Delicatessen has been in business for more than 20 years, open again after a pandemic remodel. Nibble on a savory Vietnamese crepe (bánh xèo) in the bright cafe, and take home a bottle of one of the sauces developed based on family recipes. In Hillsboro CM Bánh Mì serves up its house-special sandwich with cured pork and pork roll, and Vivi’s Vietnamese Noodle House offers the crispiest spring rolls and bright tamarind soup.
In the Willamette Valley, stop by Kim Huong in Salem for a steaming bowl of phở with rare flank steak in Salem. Baguette Vietnamese Sandwiches in Corvallis creates a dozen types of bánh mì — try the Daring sandwich with pork cold cuts, pate and head cheese. Just down the road, Mum Mum, which opened in 2022, serves classics like noodle soup, vermicelli and rice plates.
In Eugene, Bon Mi serves bánh mì with a spicy twist: The hot pork and chicken bánh mì include red-chili sauce. For a Vietnamese and Chinese menu, Yi Shen is a town favorite. Be sure to grab a bowl of hủ tiếu, a Southern Vietnamese noodle soup with shrimp and ground pork, when it’s on the specials board. On the western outskirts of town, Saigon Cafe’s menu has both meat-friendly and vegetarian options for spring rolls and phở.