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Restaurant Review: Saigon Harbor

This week food writer Clara Park reviews Saigon Harbor in Havertown.

Restaurant: Saigon Harbor

Address: 1501 W. Chester Pike, Havertown , PA 19083

Rating: (3 out of 5 stars): ★★★
Style: Casual Vietnamese BYOB
Food: Vietnamese specialties
Atmosphere: Brightly lit interior with hints of Asian decor
Parking: Small lot
Service: Excellent
Price Range: Inexpensive
Unique Feature: Wide variety of pho (Vietnamese noodle soups)

When I lived in Chicago, my friends and I would head to Argyle Street, aka Little Vietnam, to get our pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) fix. Sometimes we would indulge in Vietnamese iced coffees, bubble teas and occasionally even an avocado milkshake (surprisingly delicious, although definitely not what you’d expect it to taste like …).

I was surprised when I heard that a Vietnamese restaurant had opened up next to Manoa Shopping Center in Havertown. Unaware of a significant Vietnamese population in that area, I arrived with curiosity, two friends and a bottle of Pinot Grigio (great with Asian noodle dishes).

The restaurant is newly opened and while the small lot doesn’t have too many spots, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the huge Manoa Shopping Center lot. Also noteworthy is the proximity to a liquor store (we actually sent one of our party out to grab the bottle of wine) in case you forget to bring your own bottle from home. The bright interior has plenty of seating for groups of all sizes and extra wide aisles for maneuvering strollers, wheel chairs, etc.

We began with summer and spring rolls. The translucent rice paper surrounded both shrimp and pork as well as mint, cilantro and thin noodles in the summer rolls. The shrimp was a tad chewy but the pork was quite flavorful.

I enjoyed the cool burst of mint and the herbaceous cilantro leaves present in each bite. The peanut dipping sauce was wonderfully thick and savory and provided a perfect compliment to the rolls. The spring rolls were very crisp on the outside and mildly flavored. These too improved with a dip in the acidic dipping sauce with just a hint of fish sauce.

For our entrees we had the seafood pho, the beef brisket, flank steak, beef tendon and beef ball pho and the grilled chicken bun. The bun arrived as an abundant plate of thin rice noodles, a generous portion of grilled chicken and minimal vegetables. The fish sauce, lime sauce and palm sugar dipping sauce provided a nice sharp contrast to the other more neutral components of the dish. The white breast meat was nicely cooked and still relatively juicy with just a touch of char.

The beef pho was ok. The subtle beef broth was satisfying but not nearly as richly textured as better versions of this dish. The beef was thinly sliced but slightly chewy. I didn’t see any beef tendons in my soup and the beef balls weren’t bursting with beef flavor. At every other Vietnamese restaurant I have been to, they bring out a plate of bean sprouts, cilantro leaves, jalapeno peppers and lime wedges as a mini “fixins” plate for your pho. I missed having the chance to customize my soup exactly the way I like it.

The seafood pho was brimming with calamari, shrimp and chunks of crabmeat. Visually stunning, this dish was a sight to behold. The broth was also mild and didn't quite pack the punch I had hoped for. The rings of freshly chopped scallion provided a peppery contrast to the seafood broth and fish. 

The service is excellent. Questions were answered efficiently and quickly. Water glasses were refilled constantly and our bottle of wine was opened expertly. Our food arrived hot and in a pleasing manner. The restaurant staff take pride in their work and that was obvious in all presentations and the overall cleanliness of the establishment.

My friend saw an elderly Vietnamese woman barking orders in the kitchen and otherwise keeping her employees in check. I smiled as I imagined my own Asian grandmothers and their ruling iron fists. The restaurant just opened. I imagine that like wine, it’ll only get better with age.  

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