Meet Pho’s Feisty Cousin at Bun Bo Hue Duc Chuong Restaurant in Houston
My first experience at Bún Bò Huế Đức Chương, located at 11415 Bellaire – and my first taste of bún bò Huế in general – was a confusing one in all the best ways possible. Years ago a coworker invited me out to eat with his friend, where we met at a place in a nondescript strip mall on Bellaire with a sign that read “Boba T-2” in garish rainbow letters. Thinking we were stopping in for a pre-meal boba, I was even more confused when everyone sat down and a server seemingly appeared out of nowhere and asked “Small or large?”
Er, small or large what? There were no menus. Was this a trap? My coworker and his friend laughed at my confusion and explained, “They only sell one thing here, so you just pick a size.” That’s when I knew I was in for something special. I didn’t even bother asking what this mystery small or large item was. I just shrugged and blindly ordered a small. Shortly after, a massive bowl of piping-hot noodle soup materialized in front of me. The first double-take I did was at the size of the “small” bowl. The second double-take was after I took my first bite. I knew immediately that this vivid, red bowl of noodles was going to become a new favorite.
The signage at Bún Bò Huế Đức Chương now has “Bún Bò Huế” written on it, indicating that there are indeed noodles being served. The “Boba T-2” sign is still there as well, but the gaudy rainbow letters are now a uniform red.
While phở is a ubiquitous staple in Houston, bún bò Huế is another Vietnamese noodle soup that deserves just as much love and attention. If phở broth is characterized by warm and comforting spices, then bún bò Huế broth is vibrant with notes of lemongrass and chili oil to give it some heat. The rice noodles are rounder and thicker than those used in phở, and instead of using what may be considered the more “presentable” slices of beef that you’d find in phở, bún bò Huế is unapologetically pedestrian in its meat cuts. You’ll find a hunk of pork knuckle and some earthy pork blood cubes among slices of beef and Vietnamese sausage.
A squeeze of lime juice brightens the flavors in the broth, and a plate of herbs is served on the side to add to your heart’s delight. Containers of pungent shrimp paste and chili sauce are at each table to add to your bowl to add more robust flavors if you wish.
While I felt the broth on my most recent visit wasn’t as fiery as usual, previous visits have consistently been rich and piquant, so I’m hoping it was just an off-day. I’ve also witnessed people coming in with large empty stock pots and walking out with them full of to-go orders of broth. I’ve never ordered a pot to-go to keep at home, but it’s something I’d love to try someday. It seems like a great way to use up leftover meat in the fridge.
While they do indeed sell boba at Bún Bò Huế Đức Chương (that Boba T-2 sign isn’t there just for kicks), another part of the ritual of visiting here is to pair a bowl of bún bò Huế with nước mát, or simply calling it “the green drink” will suffice. Literally translating to “cooling drink,” nước mát is an artichoke and pandan tea, filled with a kaleidoscope of fruit jellies and basil seeds. It’s sweet, refreshing, and helps to counter the heat of the soup. Who needs a wine pairing when this is cheaper and a lot more fun?
There’s something special about a place that only serves one dish, and Bún Bò Huế Đức Chương is a great introduction to a different Vietnamese soup for those who have only had phở. While my most recent visit wasn’t as flavorful as past drop-ins (and hopefully not a sign for future visits), it’s still a great little no-frills stop for a quick and inexpensive meal. Just don’t bother asking for a menu.
Bún Bò Huế Đức Chương is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
When she isn’t daydreaming about her next travel destination, Cindy likes to crochet, mix her own cocktails at home, and torment everyone with dad jokes that are so bad they’re good. Otherwise you’ll most likely find her getting cozy with a flat white or a glass of whiskey at a favorite local haunt!