At Banh Mi Deluxe, egg and avocado make a cameo next to classic grilled pork. Photograph by Amber Fouts.
The Vietnamese community that took root here after the fall of Saigon made Seattle immeasurably richer—and embedded some dishes in our culinary canon. It’s strange to think of a time when pho wasn’t splashed across our landscape as essentially as coffee, and when banh mi wasn’t a lunchtime staple. But great Vietnamese food in this town also means vegan deli, spicy noodle soups, whole fried catfish, or elegant drinks. Once you’ve eaten your fill, check out the subsequent wave of Vietnamese coffee shops.
As the name implies, baguette sandwiches are the move here. But the lineup contains a few pleasant surprises. Like the banh mi filled with corned beef, or another that contains chicken braised in soy sauce and butter with sweet onions and just a hint of melted mozzarella. A thicket of herbs, jalapeno, and pickled veggies leaven those rich meats. Right now this little spot at the crux of Greenwood Avenue and Holman Road operates solely as a takeout and delivery app counter.
Central Seattle (Especially Little Saigon)
The vast menu’s organized by mollusk: sea snails, winkle snails, Canadian yellow spotted snails. Which is to say this bamboo-trimmed room is serious about seafood. The namesake bun oc (rice noodle soup with snails that hails from Hanoi) has a complex, briny broth but even nongastropodal standards like lotus root salad and fish cakes draped across balls of crispy rice are standouts. Especially when the house green chili sauce is involved.
Look beyond the vigorously pastel walls to that glorious pay-by-the-pound buffet, a smorgasbord of curry, tofu, braised jackfruit, eggplant, and assorted “meat” that’s the stuff of meatless dreams. Owner Tanya Nguyen also makes tangy noodle soups and a banh mi with faux crispy pork skin that counts plenty of carnivores in its fan base. Online ordering makes life even better.
Sure, the bathtub-size “super bowls” of pho are a fun novelty, but the real draw here is housemade rice noodles, soaked, ground, and fashioned over several laborious days. A visit to this yellow-walled spot just off Jackson doubles as an opportunity to explore Vietnamese soups, like lemongrass-sparked bun bo hue or comforting hu tieu, often overshadowed by our collective love of pho.
When Peter Kuang and his family opened their narrow slip of a restaurant in 2005, word traveled fast. Prominent chef-fans sang its praises and drove a wave of diners still getting to know the charms of banh xeo and Vietnam’s traditional seven courses of beef. Over the years, Kuang’s family opened (and closed) a few additional locations around the city. Right now they run a simplified menu due to Covid challenges. But the banh xeo is still crisp and fresh, and that fan base remains strong as ever (these days, says Kuang, vermicelli bowls are a top seller).
When you see elderly Vietnamese ladies chatting at a four-top whilst assembling their lettuce-wrapped bundles of banh hoi rice noodles for lunch, you know you’re right where you should be—that is, a restaurant tucked in a busy plaza on Jackson. New owners carry on founder Lien Dang’s commitment to the cuisine of the old royal capital of Hue, from spicy bun bo hue beef noodle soup to banh beo, steamed rice cakes showered with ground shrimp and scallions.
From pate chaud and baked or steamed hum bao from the bakery case to the pate, ham, meatballs, perfect shatter-prone baguettes, even the mayo that populate the sandwich menu, this stylish banh mi shop (from the family behind the miracle chicken wings at Hue Ky Mi Gia) makes just about everything in house.
Chinatown–International District, Downtown
Born in the humble boat-shaped structure across the parking lot, Seattle’s first pho shop has grown into this tropically styled space, whose broad windows sport the steam of all those bowls of rich pho served within. The menu grew as well, to include cocktails, Viet-tinged snacks like fries in lemongrass dipping sauce, and soup adventures like the turmeric noodles and short rib pho. The new sibling location downtown offers those same great noodles, plus banh mi on house-baked bread and (coming in October) a hidden cocktail bar upstairs.
No seating, no frills, but, yes—some of the best banh mi in the city on fresh-made baguette, filled with grilled tofu and veggies or three kinds of ham. Others go for snacks packaged in-house: shrimp spring rolls, chicken with rice, or minced pork inside steamed rice wrapped in banana leaf.
“Fusion” feels like a wholly inadequate word for Eric Johnson’s ode to Vietnamese flavors, a love acquired during his years cooking at Jean-Georges in Shanghai and exploring Southeast Asia any chance he got. Johnson’s background in the highest of high-end restaurants informs intelligent explorations of the flavor crossroads of Vietnam and China, like master stock crispy chicken and Vietnamese iced coffee creamsicles.
In 2004, Tam Nguyen expanded the city’s definition of Little Saigon with a deeply atmospheric dining room, serving an enormous menu of carefully prepared Vietnamese regional staples. Very little has changed, save Seattle’s deepening awareness of how lucky we are to have this place. These days, Tamarind Tree is also a rare destination for a proper Bo 7 Mon, Vietnam’s traditional seven courses of beef.
Tofu can absolutely be destination-worthy, as evidenced by the lemongrass, chive, and other varieties made fresh and sold here by the pound. Once just a tofu production company, Thanh Son branched out with an unexpectedly glittering deli space on King, with solid banh mi and a build-your-own che (beverage by way of dessert) menu that’s bonkers fun.
Park behind this shop on Rainier and you’ll see duck and pork belly hanging in a glass enclosure on the side of the building, a literal window into the careful ingredients that get tucked into satisfying baguettes. The banh mi lineup includes some classics, like that pork belly, but also nouveau versions made with bulgogi and kimchi. Egg and avocado also make unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable banh mi cameos. Boss Tea, a sibling bubble tea enterprise, has its own counter inside.
No one’s racking at the pool tables at the moment, but this low-key billiards hall just off Martin Luther King Jr. Way South doubles as an impressive Vietnamese restaurant. One with an expansive menu of banh mi, vermicelli bowls, and rice plates. Sure, Billiard Hoang makes solid pho, but it also offers a chance to explore other noodle soups like tomato-brothed bun rieu.
We should all be so lucky to have a neighborhood restaurant like this in our midst—crispy banh xeo, vermicelli bowls full of crunchy vegetables and rich grilled meat, a mango salad you could (gladly) eat every day. Plus a few less-common dishes, like duck noodle soup or a pork chop redolent of caramelized fish sauce and topped with a fried egg. Huong Duong means “sunflower” in Vietnamese, which explains the bright-yellow walls in the laid-back dining room.
Yes, that one time Anthony Bourdain visited for The Layover was pretty cool. But we didn’t need a food celebrity to tell us this sprawling two-level dining room was special. A vast menu includes uncommon meat—grilled snails, deep-fried quail—but the kitchen shows just as much care with standards like banh xeo or a short rib rice plate (the menu also includes Chinese dishes). Big groups and families make an event out of the whole catfish, fried until its skin crackles beneath your chopsticks like radio static.
West Seattle, White Center, Bainbridge Island
Winslow Way’s many charms now include plates of butter beef with garlic fried rice, spicy truffle wontons, and mussels in a broth of coconut and lemongrass. Siblings Trinh and Thai Nguyen weave French technique and local ingredients into a menu that suits a nicer occasion or just a round of drinks and a plate of honey tamarind chicken wings. The tranquil dining room at the foot of the main drag also has a sizable patio.
Large letters on the front window deliver three emphatic words: com (rice), pho, and bun (rice noodles). But, at least on the first visit, head straight to the large menu’s specialty section, full of noodle soups from central Vietnam. The mi quang submerges shrimp, quail eggs, and bits of spareribs in broth and a thicket of wide turmeric noodles, all topped with peanuts and caramelized onions. Other favorites include big bowls of bun rieu or spicy beef noodle soup known here as bun bo dalat. No wonder nearly every table in this soaring room emits a plume of steam from a soup bowl.
A deli on Sixteenth Avenue Southwest was a low-key neighborhood favorite until it got some major banh mi love from The Seattle Times last year. Sandwiches come thick with vegetables, especially batons of pickled daikon. Meat is nearly as generous, all inside a pitch-perfect baguette. Note: Huong Xua suffered significant damage when firefighters responded to a nearby blaze September 13. The deli is currently closed; neighboring business Full Tilt Ice Cream created a Go Fund Me to support the rebuild.
Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, University Village
It's easy to take Ba Bar for granted because it’s always there for you. Three locations serve reliable high-quality pho at 10am on a Tuesday, slushy cocktails at happy hour, and a menu built on Saigon street food: vermicelli bowls, crispy imperial rolls, five-spice rotisserie duck. Sophie Banh ensures the food remains great, while brother Eric keeps things of the moment, from adding stylish covered and heated patios to installing a formidable pastry program.
Capitol Hill, Bellevue
Eric and Sophie Banh’s pair of elegant Vietnamese restaurants still sparkle as they did when the first Monsoon wowed the city in 1999. The original location on 19th and its Bellevue spin-off each retain their own personas, but both nail consistency—in the warm service, the grilled beef la lot, drunken chicken, and clay pot catfish, and the allure of weekend dim sum brunch. Beverage director Jon Christiansen ensures cocktails are on point, and the Seattle rooftop remains one of the town’s best, most secluded patios.
Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square
Huy Tat’s family runs the excellent Lan Hue banh mi shop (and the equally spectacular Hue Ky Mi Gia), but he launched his own fast-casual brand in a bid to plant these sandwiches squarely in the center of Seattle’s pre-pandemic lunch scene. Much has changed since then, of course, but not Mr. Saigon’s banh mi—a mix of classic and modern creations built from housemade ingredients.
South Lake Union, Kent, Kirkland, Sammamish
It all began with an unassuming counter on Westlake, handing satisfying pho and vermicelli bowls topped with grilled organic meat out of the walkup window. If this formula was a lock for Amazon lunchers, it has proved even more successful with three subsequent locations that offer actual seating and an entire wall of automated pour-it-yourself beer taps.