Most of the discussion surrounding the Portland food scene involves trendy restaurants in neighborhoods like downtown, Northwest District, and the Alberta Arts District. Many culinary tourists may not know that the city has a vibrant Vietnamese community near on the northeast side of town near Portland International Airport.
Ha VL is especially noteworthy, a family-run restaurant with an epic story that’s probably the city’s best known Vietnamese restaurant. William Vuong and Christina Ha Luu founded the restaurant in a strip mall due south of PDX 2006, and son Peter Vuong now runs daily operations. Their simple space involves a burgundy awning, lime green walls, speckled tables, red chairs, and a fish tank. They always serve banh mi, and rotate two special noodle soups each day.
They sold out of Northern phô båc, their most popular Sunday special, but that was no great loss since I was able to get two banh mi and two bowls of Vietnamese Noodle Soup – Mi Quång ($10.50). This spicy pork broth is loaded with slippery turmeric rice noodles, sliced shrimp cake, shrimp, ground shrimp, pork ribs, sliced pork meatloaf, sliced pork, ground pork, crushed peanuts, cilantro, scallions, and a single sesame rice cracker that soaks quickly.
The family runs a second location called Rose VL Deli on SE Powell Boulevard, and if their food’s anything like the original (the menu’s nearly identical), Portlanders and visitors are even more likely to pay the fringes more mind.