Tuesday, May 18, 2010

#4: Ngon Bistro

St. Paul has no shortage of Vietnamese restaurants lining University Avenue. Many of these have little to recommend themselves, aside from tasty, cheap food. Ngon Bistro stands out from the rest. By appearances, the space is charming and inviting, with work by local artists staged above sunny gold wainscoting. The menu is a clever (and fitting) French-Vietnamese fusion, such as sweet potato shrimp croquettes, sugar cane shrimp, croque madame (with pork belly). You’ll also find the best versions of traditional Vietnamese dishes. For instance, pho and hu tieu both feature housemade broths that are so rich and earthy and redolent of star anise. Whenever I feel run down or get the aches and pains that precede a cold or the flu, I want Ngon’s soup. They’re soul-warming, and, I believe, instantly healing.

My very favorite menu item is the pork loin sandwich. This is not your $3 bahn mi, either. Baguette-style rolls are slathered with liver pate then piled high with local duroc pork, which has been shellacked with Vietnamese “BBQ” sauce, and topped with vinegary jalapenos, carrots, and daikon. A tangle of skinny-cut sweet potato fries with  sriracha-laced mayo are equally addictive. You’re given a generous portion of sweet potato fries, and I tend to eat every single one.

There’s a lot of good farm-to-table stuff going on at Ngon. Even the beers are from local brewers—Summit, Brau Brothers, Surly, Lake Superior, Flat Earth, and Lift Bridge, to name a few really good beer makers.

Ngon Bistro, 799 University Avenue, St. Paul, MN 651-222-3301