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Vietnamese cooking incorporates centuries of culinary influences from China (soy sauce, stir-frying, noodles), Mongolia (beef) and Southeast Asia (curries and Indian spices).  The French influence in Vietnamese cuisine is visible in the French baguettes used for bánh mì (sandwiches), the use of butter, and the preference for strongly brewed coffee. Certain dishes represent Vietnam’s three regions. The most elaborate meals are served in Central Vietnam around the city of Hue. Northern Vietnamese cuisine, the food of Hanoi, features charcoal grilled meats (bún chả), noodle dishes and beef phở (noodle soup) with flat rice noodles. Southern Vietnamese cuisine, served in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), tends to be spicier, with the use of South Asian curries, and more seafood. From what I’ve sampled in this country, I’d love to try the real thing in Hue, Hanoi or Saigon.

“Cooking Vietnamese food well is difficult because of the many nuances in a well-executed dish,” says Kitty Nguyen, my expert guide on the intricacies of Vietnamese cuisine. “Every Vietnamese dish and meal should balance multiple flavors – spicy, salty, sour, bitter and sweet; and textures – raw vegetables and charred meats, for example.”

Bánh mì could be the world’s most perfect sandwich. The freshness of the bread is key. It should be baked the same day, with a cracking, light crust. Balance marks the dish. The traditional first layer is a pork pate, topped with pickled vegetables (daikon, carrots, cucumbers), sliced raw hot peppers (jalapenos), meat (ham, roast pork, or BBQ pork), cilantro stems, and a smear of butter on the top half of the baguette. The best bánh mì I’ve tasted in New Jersey I ordered to go at Hủ Tiếu Miền Tây in Atlantic County (Pleasantville).

Traditional phở (pronunciation guide) simmers – never boils – for hours, and is constantly stained and skimmed. The rich flavors emerge from the ingredients, with no shortcuts. Sweetness comes from the meat bones, never added sugar. There must be some fat, but not too much, floating on the surface. Serious phở fans consider broth clarity, flavor, and ingredients. The broth is poured over fresh rice noodles with thin slices of raw beef. A plate of fresh herbs (cilantro and mint), raw bean sprouts, green chile peppers and lemon or lime wedges come with your bowl so you can add flavors and textures to your liking. Among Vietnamese, by the way, phở is a popular breakfast dish. The most flavorful phở I’ve enjoyed, albeit for lunch, is found at South Plainfield’s Saigon, which earns EthnicNJ’s coveted #1 favorite spot for Vietnamese food.

While most of New Jersey’s ethnic enclaves are in the Northern half of the state, the Vietnamese are an exception. Philadelphia has a larger Vietnamese population (concentrated along Washington Avenue in South Philly near the Italian Market) than New York City. This may explain why Jersey’s largest Vietnamese communities are in South Jersey. There are some 20,000 New Jerseyans of Vietnamese ancestry, according to the 2010 Census. Camden and Atlantic counties have the most Vietnamese residents. Pennsauken, Atlantic City, Egg Harbor Township and Camden all have substantial Vietnamese populations. Look for clusters of Vietnamese restaurants and you will find them in Cherry Hill, outside Camden, and in Atlantic City.

Don’t see your favorite Vietnamese? Share yours. I’ll add the most popular to the list, and to the map.


Central Jersey Banh Mi?
Discovering Southeast Asia in New Jersey
Pho (Vietnamese noodles) in New Jersey?
Pho Fever
Vietnamese on the Atlantic


16 Responses to “Vietnamese”

  1. Hi! A new Vietnamese restaurant has just opened up recently in Morris Plains, NJ called OoLaLa! Restaurant. With it’s modern, casual interior, OoLaLa! specializes in banh mi and pho, but also offers rice dishes, appetizers, and sweet treats like che and bubble tea. It would be great if you could add this to your list of Vietnamese restaurants in NJ, and even better if you’re able to make it up to Morris Plains to grab a bite to eat! Hope to see you soon 🙂


  2. WSP says:

    I’m from Vietnam and I’ve been to New Jersey twice and I stayed there for a month and a half. I had Phở at Sài Gòn Phở, Viet Ai, Kam Man food court and Lemongrass and I talked to all the owners there. I can tell you Phở at Kam Man food court is not really Phở, it’s easy to understand because it is cooked by a Chinese guy. I don’t like Phở at Viet Ai because it’s too salty. Sài Gòn Phở is OK and I like Lemongrass in Parsippany most, it’s almost as authentic as Phở we have everyday here.

  3. Eater says:

    Saigon Pho in Parsippany is awesome! (maybe add it?)

  4. Bob says:

    Can someone provide food comments and actual location on Route 9 of Little Saigon, Englishtown/Marlboro, NJ ? also comments would also be welcome on Dakilang Lahi (Filipino) on Route 35, Eatontown, NJ

    Thanks: Jing Fong

  5. meade says:

    I Just ate at Pho Le. I ordered the Pho with meatballs. It was not as good as the the Pho served at Little Saigon in Atlantic City. It did not have lemongrass and the meatballs were bland. It didn’t taste like traditional Pho. It was hotter and seemed to be flavored with chillies. The restaurant was very hectic the staff were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It is best to call ahead as we had to eat at the counter. I would not go back. Little Saigon in AC is way better.

  6. Marra says:

    spoke with the Owners of Pho Le, she told me that the restaurant scheduled to open the end of April – visit the web site at – Wi-Fi Enabled Restaurant !!!???

  7. meade says:


    The former owners of Saigon in Lincroft are opening a new restaurant in Red Bank called Pho Le. It is scheduled to open sometime in April.

  8. meade says:

    I just ate at Little Saigon in Atlantic City. I ordered the Pho Bo Tian. It was the best meal I have ever had. I also ordered the Vietnamese salad. Best salad I ever had. They make a cool French drip coffee with tapioca that’s delicious. Don’t let the looks fool you. This is a great restaurant.

  9. meade says:

    Looking for good Vietnamese food in or near Ocean or Monmouth Counties.

  10. Catherine says:

    My two kids and I love to throw it down Vietnamese style and when our favorite Little Saigon in Montclair closed we were DEVISTATED and were soon walking crooked. We recenty found out the Little Saigon opened as new Huong Viet in Nutley- WAHOO!
    I do have to disagree with your Worth a Visit choice of Viet Ai in Florham Park. We went and were disappointed with the Summer Rolls (wimpy in size and content and the peanut dipping sauce was blah), the Spring Rolls were small and lacking flavor. The Pho was too sweet and we left there in an even deeper slump. Since finding Huong Viet I am happy to report that all three of us are now walking straight : )

    • Anthony says:

      I agree that Viet Ai is not in the same league as Huong Viet. Catherine, if you have a chance, try Saigon in South Plainfield and let me know what you think. We love Vietnamese and I’m sure there are more places in Jersey we’re missing.