Around the World in Houston: Discover Vietnam

around-the-world-in-houston-vietnam
Photo courtesy of Vietnamese Community of Houston and Vicinities (VNCH)

With a labyrinth of cultures represented in every nook and cranny of town, Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. To celebrate this world-class melting pot, we’ll be exploring a new region of the globe through a Houston lens each week, from annual festivals and museums to restaurants and cultural experiences. Join the journey with our Around the World in Houston series.

A flux of Vietnamese refugees immigrated to Houston after the Vietnam War and continued after, making the Vietnamese community one of the largest Asian ethnic groups in Harris County by 1990.

Today, the culture’s influence can be seen all around town, from Midtown’s Little Saigon to the number of Bellaire establishments offering everything from banh mi and pho to Vietnamese-style crawfish (which may just be the dish that best defines Houston cuisine).

Annual Festivals & Cultural Events

  • AsiaFest Held in the spring, AsiaFest celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage through community performances, fusion cuisine, creative activities, art and vendors, and cultural exhibitions.
  • The Great Banh Mi Cookoff Held each year in the fall, this fun and tasty event will bring together local chefs and restaurants for a banh mi throwdown.
  • Lunar New Year Houston This Texan-sized Asian New Year celebration is held at the Viet Hoa Center, with 2018’s fest set for Feb 24-25. And look out for additional celebrations at spots like Hughie’s Tavern & Vietnamese Grill, Roostar Vietnamese Grill, and Pho and Crab Restaurant.
  • Mid-Autumn Festival Each year, the Vietnamese Culture & Science Association partners with Children’s Museum of Houston to offer a day of fun and culture. Families can expect everything from a traditional lion dance and lantern making storytelling and Vietnamese language learning.
  • Vietnamese Crawfish Festival Held every spring by the Vietnamese Martyrs Church, this mudbug fest offers Viet-Cajun treats alongside traditional food.

Museums & Cultural Organizations

  • Asia Society Texas Center The Asia Society Texas Center focuses on enriching and engaging the vast diversity of Houston through innovative, relevant programs in arts and culture, business and policy, education, and community outreach. Look out for a lineup of programs and activities, including film festivals, family days, culture camps, student programs, art exhibitions and more.
  • Asian Pacific American Heritage Association Formed in 1992 and serving the Greater Houston area and beyond, this heritage association strives to promote awareness and increase understanding of the Asian/Pacific American culture and its diversity through education and celebration. The group focuses on May, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and continues with programs, events, and educational opportunities throughout the year.
  • Boat People SOS Houston The Houston brand of this international non-profit empowers, organizes and equips immigrant communities in their pursuit of liberty while providing education and direct assistance to immigrant and refugee families. Throughout the year, the chapter hosts events like the Great Banh Mi Cookoff, Lend a Hand Fundraiser, youth programs and more.
  • Vietnamese American Community CenterThis cultural hub provides social services, education, and housing in the Greater Houston area, along with a lineup of celebrations throughout the year, including the Lunar New Year festival, Commemoration of the Fall of Saigon, Mid Autumn Festival, Grand Parents’ Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
  • Vietnamese Community of Houston and Vicinity  This community group provides free social services and assistance to those in the Houston community. Connect with others and get updates on its Facebook page.
  • Vietnamese Community Services This organization is committed to serving the low-income, elderly, disabled, and underprivileged community in Greater Houston, while preserving Vietnamese traditions and values and promoting solidarity. Programs include ESL classes, health care workshops, job training and more.
  • Arts of Asia at MFAH The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston hosts an Arts of Asia collection spanning nearly five millennia and encompassing cultures across the continent, including Southeast Asian art.

Vietnamese Food & Drink

Restaurants

  • 88 Boiling This seafood shack is a favorite for its buttery Vietnamese-style mudbugs, especially during crawfish season.
  • Café TH Café TH rocks the Midtown and Downtown lunch crowd thanks to some fast, cheap, and seriously good banh mi, but you’ll also want to pay it a sit-down visit. The cool spot features works from local artists, is BYOB, and offers deliciousness in the form of bo kho (beef stew), bot chien (fried egg and rice flour cake), vermicelli and rice bowls, and incredible chef specials.
  • Cajun Craven With Vietnamese egg rolls, whole fried flounder, catfish po boys, and garlickly, sweet-and-sour crawfish by the pound, this Viet-Cajun joint is totally crave-worthy.
  • Cajun Kitchen Hit the spot with Viet-Cajun seafood boils and plates that go above and beyond the norm. Start with garlic butter and scallion topped Oysters Vietnam, then pinch, peel, crack, and suck crawfish, shrimp, and crab by the pound.
  • Cali Sandwich Located in Midtown’s old Little Saigon, locals come to Cali for fast, cheap and mighty fine banh mi and pho. The grilled bbq pork sandwich is a fan favorite.
  • Casian Crawfish Seafood & VietnameseShare Vietnamese egg rolls and Cajun-Asian style crawfish alongside bo luc lac (shaking beef), bo kho (beef stew) and char-broiled pork vermicelli bowls.
  • Crawfish Café Located in the Hong Kong City Mall, this popular spot offers crawfish eggrolls, fish sauce wings, and mudbugs dripping in sauces from garlic butter to lemon pepper and Thai basil. Add a side of banh mi to sop up the juices.
  • Crawfish & Noodles One of the original gangsters of the Viet-Cajun mudbug scene, this Asiatown favorite packs the house with those for buttery, finger-licking crawfish and traditional Vietnamese dishes—from stir-fried crab and rare beef pho to spiced turkey neck and barbecue pork.
  • Hughie’s Vietnamese Tavern With two locations in the Heights and a family-friendly atmosphere, Hughie’s draws in locals with its eclectic mix of craft beers and Vietnamese/American eats. Get shrimp spring rolls with chili peanut sauce, salt-and-pepper spare ribs, lemongrass chicken rice plates, shaking beef, and banh mi burgers.
  • Huynh Restaurant Don’t be fooled by its unassuming strip center location, this family-run EaDo restaurant is all class. Feast on homestyle eats, including coconut curry, goi vit (Vietnamese duck salad), bún bò huế (spicy beef noodle soup), and bánh cuốn (rice flour rolls served with things like ground pork, crushed dried shrimp, and Vietnamese ham).
  • Jenni’s Noodle House Noodles rule at this Vietnamese eatery, which boasts four Houston locations. Get vermicelli salads plump with lemongrass chicken, pork, and shrimp egg rolls and fish sauce; warm up with traditional beef pho, and dig into fragrant curries and stir-fries.
  • LA Crawfish Hit the Greenway or Asiatown location of this hotspot to get spiced and garlic butter loaded mudbugs alongside crawfish pho, garlic noodles, and bbq blue crab.
  • Les Ba’get Vietnamese Café You haven’t lived until you’ve had Les Ba’get’s killer banh mi, tightly packed with everything from 24-hour sous vide pork belly and oak-smoked brisket to hoisin buttered chicken and Vietnamese ham. The Montrose haunt also rocks things like fatty brisket pho, grilled bone marrow with a buttered paté baguette, crab-pork-and-prawn egg rolls, pandan waffles and fried chicken with fish sauce marinade, and café sữa dá (Vietnamese iced coffee made with condense milk).
  • Les Givral’s This Washington and Midtown banh mi stop is a cheap and fast favorite with midnight hours most days of the week.
  • Le Colonial Vietnamese fare goes upscale at this chic River Oaks District eatery. Dine on dishes like the Banh Cuon, Hanoi steamed ravioli with chicken, wood ear mushrooms, and chili lime garlic sauce; or Bo Bit Thet, Vietnamese-style ribeye with roasted garlic and basil butter.
  • Loving Hut Vegans and non-vegans alike flock to this lovable spot, which focuses on Asian and Vietnamese eats that fully abstain from animal product.
  • Mai’s This Midtown standby rocks late night hours, making it a favorite of the post-bar crowd who want to sober up with grilled pork and shrimp spring rolls, salt-and-pepper wings, piping hot bowls of spicy noodle soup, and bo luc lac, Mai’s signature dish of stir-fried filet mignon with garlic, peppers, and jalapeño.
  • Nam Eatery On 20th in the Heights, this counter-service joint offers Vietnamese classics, including rice and vermicelli plates, beef meatball and dry chicken pho, grilled pork banh mi, and shaken filet mignon.
  • Nam Giao This Vietnamese mom-and-pop off Bellaire may be older, but its as tasty as ever. Come here for classic dishes that are full flavor, from banh nam (flat steamed rice dumpling) and banh bot loc la (clear dumpling wrapped in banana leaf) to bánh bèo chén (steamed rice cakes served with dipping sauces).
  • Nguyen Ngo French Cafe Come to this hole-in-the-wall for croissants and French bread stuffed with tender pork meatballs, ham, shredded chicken, jalapeño, paté and more. And be sure to finish with Vietnamese desserts and coffee.
  • Pho BenHead to this Sugar Land restaurant for fresh spring rolls stuffed with pork, shrimp, and vermicelli, noodle soups loaded with fatty brisket, soft tendon, and white beef tripe, and desserts like bean pudding and exotic fruits in sweet cream. 
  • Pho Binh With multiple locations dotting the city, Pho Binh is a bonafide Houston institution. Pop in to see why it sparked a pho revolution via its rich, warmly fragrant bowls stacked with herbs, rice noodles, and luscious cuts like rare eye of round, brisket, and tendon.
  • Pho Dien This Bellaire Boulevard noodle house offers small, large and extra-large soups that run the gamut from meatball and rare steak to tripe, tendon, and brisket.
  • Pho & CrabWith two locations, this pho shop puts a modern twist on classic Viet eats. Get lemongrass steamed mussels, bbq duck steamed buns, flaming chicken, and pho loaded with crab, shrimp and scallop.
  • Pho Saigon This fan favorite has four Houston area locations, serving up aromatic pho with your choice of noodles (standard thin, flat rice noodles or egg noodles, clear noodles and thick round rice noodles) and add-ins (eye round steak, well done lean meat, well done flank, soft tendon, fatty brisket, white omasum beef tripe, skirt flank, beef meatballs, white and dark meat chicken, shrimp, fish balls, and imitation crab).
  • Roostar Vietnamese Grill With locations in Spring Branch and the Galleria, Roostar offers quality banh mi with your choice of protein—think pork belly, smoked ham, chopped ribeye, and crispy tofu, plus accouterments like pickled carrot, sliced jalapeño, cilantro, fried egg, paté, and garlic aioli. Fans also love the crispy wings and egg rolls.
  • Saigon Pagaloc Come hungry and ready to dine family-style, because you’re ordering seven courses of beef (or fish, if you prefer) at this popular Dynasty Plaza spot.
  • Thien An Sandwiches This old favorite is back open with a new location on San Jacinto, offering its signature banh mi and house favorites like banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe).
  • Thien Thanh This Asiatown strip center haunt plays to the local Vietnamese crowd, with homestyle hits ranging from bánh cuốn (thin stamed rice rolls) to bbq pork.
  • Vietnam Coast Vietnamese A neighborhood favorite since 1981, Vietnam Coast Restaurant keeps fans coming back for its classic dishes, including favorites like banh xeo, beef pho, street noodles, and Vietnamese fajitas.

Bars & Nightlife

  • Nobi Public HouseThis hip Webster haunt combines craft beer with Vietnamese fusion. Sip local and hard-to-score suds alongside char-grilled pork fries and nachos, banh mi hot dogs, butter garlic wings, and Sunday-only pho.
  • Yes KTV  Open daily and located on the 2nd floor of the Dun Huang Plaza shopping strip, this upscale karaoke bar boasts private rooms, and a laundry list of songs, including over 10,000 songs in Vietnamese. If that weren’t enough already, Yes KTV is also BYOB.

Grocery Stores

  • Hong Kong Food Market This colossal market in Chinatown’s Hong Kong City Mall spans the continent of Asia, offering tastes of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand.
  • Viet Hoa International Foods Come here for hard-to-score Asian ingredients and imported goods, plus fresh meats, seafood and produce, and a killer prepared foods section featuring things like whole roasted sucking pig, banh mi, and Vietnamese desserts.

Language Classes, Education Centers, Groups & Meet-Ups

  • Houston Vietnamese Professionals This meet-up group brings together fun-loving Vietnamese individuals in the Houston area, with activities including dinner and drinks, dancing, cookouts, road trips and more.
  • Hung Vuong Language School This nonprofit organization offers cultural and educational activities, with level 1 and 2 classes for youth and free adult programs.
  • Soaring Phoenix Dragon & Lion Dance Association Also known in Vietnamese as Doan Lan Hoi Tu Thien Con Rong Chau Tien, this non-profit organization is committed to raising awareness and generating funds for impoverished people around the world through the traditional art of lion and dragon dancing.
  • Vietnamese Culture and Science Association This group promotes excellence in education, leadership, and skills development through culture and science in the Vietnamese community, encouraging multi-generational and cross-cultural collaborations. Look out for cultural events, discussions, and workshops throughout the year.

Other Notables

  • Hong Kong City MallThis Chinatown destination offers a multitude of fashion, gift, music, toy, and home goods shops, plus over 20 restaurants and cafes with largely Vietnamese offerings. Then there’s the pièce de résistance, the bustling Hong Kong Food Market.
  • Radio Saigon Houston This full-time, full-service radio station caters to Vietnamese listeners in the greater Houston area, with over 80 contributing producers.
  • Viet Wave Music This Houston band preserves and promotes traditional Vietnamese music through live performances (including the 2017 AsiaFest) and educational outreach.
  • vnMetro.comFind and connect with local Vietnamese businesses in the online directory.

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