By Janet Gibson
Photography by Cindy Burnham
Some things are worth the wait.
The perfect home. Your dream job. True love.
Anything on the menu at family-owned Saigon Bistro in Fayetteville.
Just don’t expect your order to arrive in a hurry. Paper signs taped in strategic places throughout the restaurant remind us of the owners’ mantra:
“We do not serve fast food; we serve fresh food you will appreciate.”
This is slow food, done right. The focus is on using the freshest possible ingredients and proven cooking methods to create a varied menu of Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai dishes that are tantalizing and affordable – prompting us to return time and again.
The most popular dish, served in a behemoth white bowl, is the traditional Vietnamese soup called pho (pronounced fuh). The aromatic broth is loaded with long rice noodles and a choice of paper thin-sliced beef, meatballs, chicken, pork, shrimp or assorted seafood. On the side: fresh cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, lime slices and extra-fiery jalapenos. Top the broth to your heart’s content.
At the end of a busy day, dining solo with a steaming bowl of beef pho – heavy on the herbs – has long been my Zen. A peaceful vibe permeates the dining room with great people-watching possibilities. Families, friends, couples, first-daters and other solo diners make up the mix – many tackling the long noodles with big spoons, forks or chopsticks – in between blissful sips of the comforting broth.
Rice noodles also take top billing in vermicelli dishes, including the “special” order punctuated with chicken, shrimp and beef, shredded lettuce, diced cucumbers, a sprinkling of peanuts (they’ll ask if you’re allergic first), bean sprouts, cilantro, carrots, radishes and bits of green onion. Drizzle with a splendid, house–made fish sauce.
Ample portions are the rule here, including several fried-rice and vegetarian options, and fantastic spring and summer rolls, too. Most entrees are priced at $7.95 to $12.95; appetizers average about $5.
The meal that can hardly be beat (even by fast-food cost standards) is lunch, with most of the 30 select menu items priced at $6.50 or $6.95, and the pricier picks going for $7.25 or $8.25 (read: steak or shrimp). Some of the lunch favorites include pepper steak, hibachi chicken, coconut curry chicken, and tofu with mixed vegetables, all served with fried rice and iced tea. The meal deal is offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays (except closed on Mondays).
Depending on how busy the place gets, many lunch or dinner orders arrive at your table in 12 minutes or less. With takeout orders, call at least 20 minutes ahead.
It’s a bit ironic that the restaurant on bustling Bragg Boulevard was actually built some years ago with fast food in mind – as a Bojangles. At least a couple of incarnations followed, and the pressed-tin ceiling is a reminder of a time when it was a casual Italian eatery.
The husband-and-wife team of Kha and Cam Nguyen (pronounced Win) opened Saigon Bistro there in 2012. Cam, who also is affectionately known as Kim, grew up working in her family’s Chinese restaurant where Kha, who is from Vietnam, honed his culinary skills. The couple also operated restaurants in a few cities before settling in Fayetteville.
At Saigon Bistro, Kha is the chef while Kim oversees the front of the house, waits on guests and runs the register. A pint-sized powerhouse, Kim can balance a trio of pho bowls with the calm and focus of an Olympic athlete. Their daughter, Trisha, also waits tables with efficiency and flair – and pitches in wherever needed.
Their business thrives on heart and soul – and treating their guests and small staff like family. Kim knows the regulars by name and folks who need pho to-go to fight the sniffles. She expresses gratitude to those who have traveled a mile – or a hundred – just to dine there.
An online review from a Holden Beach couple reveals that they drove two hours just to have lunch at Saigon Bistro. On a recent day, a businessman from Boston shared at checkout that he was traveling south to Charleston and decided to stop for lunch there.
“You must have read our reviews,” Kim says, with a tiny giggle.
Bet he’ll be back again.
* The place: Saigon Bistro, 1040 Bragg Blvd., Fayetteville.
* Specialties: Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai dishes made-to-order. Recommendations include the traditional Vietnamese soup called pho, a variety of vermicelli bowls, the “special” fried rice with chicken, shrimp and beef, and overstuffed summer rolls. Small but thoughtful selection of beers and wines. The avocado smoothie is a winner – delicious, refreshing and not overly sweet. Mango and strawberry smoothies also are popular. Children’s menu available.
* Prices: Bargain to moderate. Some 30 items on the Tuesday through Saturday special lunch menu are priced from $6.25 to $8.25 each, including fried rice and iced tea. Dinner entrees mostly range from $7.25 to $12.95.
* Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed on Mondays.
* Reservations: None required, but are encouraged for parties of six or more. Call 910-920-3578.
We asked some regulars of Saigon Bistro to name their favorite dishes:
“I like the basil beef … and the special fried rice with shrimp, chicken and beef.” – Mark Parsons, teacher, Stoney Point Elementary School
“The hibachi steak and the beef pho. It’s always so fresh.” – Kim Parsons, accounting specialist, Berkshire-Hathaway HomeServices All American Homes
“Definitely the tofu vermicelli. It’s kind of like a noodle salad.” – Adrienne Trego, director of programs and outreach, Autism Society of Cumberland County
“The crispy spring rolls. They’re addictive.” – Jeffery Womble, associate vice chancellor for communications, Fayetteville State University