Viet Rice – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Viet Rice
Viet Rice Restaurant in Rio Rancho

In Vietnamese, “an com”‘ translates as “eating rice,” but it’s a phrase that more accurately implies the act of partaking of food. At Viet Rice, they know rice and they make the act of partaking of food a memorable one! The motto “We Know Rice” is declared on the menu and it’s part of the restaurant’s logo. It’s even on the restaurant’s entrance. More importantly, it’s obvious in the way Rio Rancho’s very first Vietnamese restaurant operates. True to its name, well crafted rice dishes are a specialty, but there’s so much more than rice at this small gem operating out of a sprawling shopping center.

Viet Rice is one of the more visually appealing Vietnamese restaurants in the Duke City area with a decorous style and color scheme (lime green is very prominent) very similar to Viet Q and Viet Taste.  The counter at which you’re greeted and take-out orders are placed and picked up is under a bamboo awning.  Walls are festooned with inspired large, framed black and white photographs depicting life in Vietnam.

Grilled beef wrapped in grape leaves
Grilled beef wrapped in grape leaves

Viet Rice’s opening day, March 23rd, 2005, is a day that will live on my taste buds and olfactory memories for a long time. That’s because it’s not every restaurant that will blow me away with something so totally different or unique, but Viet Rice did so with an appetizer of grilled beef wrapped in grape leaf. Grape leaf is typically associated with Greek food, but it is also quite prevalent (although not in New Mexico) in Vietnamese food as well.

Entirely different than Greek dolmades, Viet Rice’s version features the anise, lemon grass and cinnamon blessed grilled beef encased in a small, tightly wrapped, cigar shaped grape leaf and served with fish sauce. Four pieces to the order might inspire rapacious drooling–if prepared properly (during subsequent visits, the grilled beef and grape leaf were overdone and tough).  When prepared properly, the grilled beef is redolent with the fragrance of grilled meat and spices in harmony with one another.  The

Lemongrass and chili with vermicelli
Lemongrass and chili with vermicelli

If you’re not in the mood for traditional rice, try Viet Rice’s only bun (rice vermicelli) dish. The lemongrass and chili with rice vermicelli is topped with lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, mint, peanuts and sweet fish sauce which you can have with either grilled pork, beef, chicken, shrimp or egg roll. It’s healthy and delicious, a combination of sorts of salad and grilled beef that melds flavor combinations of sweet, savory, tangy and piquant.  Ladle on fish sauce and the flavor profile now includes a bit of pungency.  Contrasts are also in play when the cold vegetables meet the hot grilled pork.  This dish also plays contrasting textures with one another–the crunchiness of the vegetables, the ethereal qualities of the noodles, the chewiness of the pork and the snap of crushed peanuts.

Relatively new (as of 2011) to the Viet Rice menu is a “Vietnamese sandwich,” the longest one in the Duke City area, in fact. At an even twelve-inches, this sandwich is twice the length of the banh mi served at some Vietnamese restaurants. Length, however, doesn’t translate in this case to best. The sandwich is offered with your choice of four grilled meats: pork, beef, chicken, meatball and beef wrap. The bread is a bit more crusty than traditional French baguettes, but it’s a very good bread. Unfortunately, the ingredients nestled within its crusty confines are parsimonious. On the two sandwiches I’ve had–grilled pork and grilled beef wrap–the only sandwich ingredients between bread were cilantro and one jalapeño for every three inches of sandwich. Unlike my favorite banh mi (at May Hong and Banh Mi Coda), it did not include pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber and Vietnamese mayo. Interestingly, it is accompanied not by fish sauce, but by a peanut sauce very reminiscent of Thai peanut sauces.

Pat Thai
Pat Thai

As good as some entrees are, it’s been a surprise to encounter some relatively uninspiring entrees on the menu.  Leave it to me to find two.  An aberration called country style diced beef (bell pepper, mushrooms and onion) is served with fried rice or steamed rice. The fried rice is fabulous, but the diced beef is reminiscent of tough stew meet with very little of the olfactory arousing spice adornment for which Vietnamese food is renowned.

The other sub-par item is the pho which I had with well done beef. Compared to the pho at May Hong or Saigon, Viet Rice’s version was like dish water.  My friend Christine whose mother is Vietnamese and father is French recounted several problems with this rendition of the national dish of Vietnam.  At the top of her list is aroma, or rather the lack of it.  As Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the prolific palate points out, “scent is crucial to a good pho.”  The other, more obvious, issue is that this pho seems made with a minimum of real bone marrow, another key to a comforting pho.  It’s several orders of magnitude better than most noodle soups you’ll find in American restaurants, but there are better phos in the Duke City area.

The longest Vietnamese Sandwich in the Albuquerque area

Viet Rice does redeem itself with a mean durian shake. Durian, the world’s most stinky fruit is such an acquired taste that my dining companions don’t even want the malodorous fruit wafting toward them, but it makes for a delicious, refreshing fruit drink and it leaves neither a funky aftertaste nor halitosis.

Viet Rice
1340 Rio Rancho Blvd.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
892-7423

LATEST VISIT: 29 July 2011
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fresh Spring Roll; Grilled Beef Wrap with Grape Leaf; Rice Noodle Bowl

Viet Rice on Urbanspoon

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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11 Comments on “Viet Rice – Rio Rancho, New Mexico”

  1. Friendly service, delicious food and reasonable price for lunch and dinner.
    Check out their website: http://www.vietrice.biz for additional information about their menu, hours of operation and price on each item. Love this place.

  2. I highly recommend if you would like to taste the traditional Vietnamese food such as grill N Pho. This is the right one…

  3. I would like to recommend for this place. I work at Intel, 10 minutes drive from where I work; and I have lunch at Viet Rice every time I forget to pack my lunch and I keep coming back again and again…
    I love Pho over here. It is very flavor and texture. Viet Rice does not serve just Pho, it has so many difference dishes that you may try.
    They have delicious Vietnamese sandwich too…

  4. I hate to say this but three of the above “reviews” sound like they were written by the same “people” who temporarily raised the rating of the usually empty Ko Palace to the most popular in Albuquerque. The format is usually something like “Have eaten there many times. We all love it . Food is delicious. Every thing is wonderful. blah, blah, gag.

  5. Viet Rice is an excellence place to eat with following reasons:

    1.0) Reasonable price
    2.0) Friendly staffs
    3.0) Delicious food
    5.0) Home made sauces
    6.0) Substitution selection
    7.0) Clean environment & warm welcome!

  6. I love Viet Rice restaurant in Rio Rancho, NM. My children and I have diner at least once a week at this restaurant and we are very happy with service, quality of food and environment. The authentic Vietnamese cuisine at Viet Rice are very tasty and delicious, specialty home made sauces deep with egg rolls and spring rolls. This restaurant is family’s own and operates – Very reasonable price, place is clean and staffs are very friendly. I spoke with the waiter and he told me that the restaurant just changed to new management so customers will be taken care of very carefully and courteously. You may check the web site at http://www.vietrice.biz for additional information of this place.

  7. I LOVE Viet Rice. It’s honestly my favorite place to eat. (I’ve been there around 7 or 8 times) Whenever my boyfriend and I have a little extra cash we eat there. I’m a vegetarian so It’s rather hard to find a place who is willing to deal with my extra needs. What’s nice about this place is that I can substitute any meat with tofu, not to mentions it is incredibly tasty. I almost always get the Pho with tofu, I love all the extra bean sprouts and veggies that they give you to put in the soup. I also get the tofu spring rolls to dip in peanut sauce which is delicious as well. My boyfriend is an incredibly picky eater, but loves their pad thai. We are going on a date there tonight and my mouth is already watering. Its fairly prices for the quality of food you get, the staff is friendly but not over-baring and the food is to die for. I highly recommend trying it!

  8. I have eaten at Viet Rice a number of times, and have not always been impressed. Many times the dishes come out at different times, which drives me crazy when I’m with customers. On my last visit, I ordered the “signature dish” – Viet Rice. It also happens to be one of the more expensive items on the menu. I was shocked at the small portion – almost half of what I normally get on other dishes. The rest of the plate (that should have been covered with food) was taken up by a fistful of cilantro!

  9. I didn’t find the staff particularly friendly. One person in particular, who mans the counter behaved “correctly” but nothing beyond that. That was the first impression. The Chicken Pho was served with minimal chicken, and the Pad Thai did a disservice to the National Dish of Thailand. I was tasty, but lacked the real traditional ingredients.

  10. The Phở here is variable: sometimes adequate, sometimes just plain terrible.

    The best Phở available, IMHO, is at Phở #1 ( http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/60/650923/restaurant/International-District/Pho-1-Albuquerque ) on San Pedro at Zuni. Second place goes to Kim Long Asian Cuisine ( http://www.abqtopten.com/blog/2011/07/21/kim-long-asian-cuisine/ ) on San Pedro just north of Indian School.

    My drive from Corrales is worth it. (We just bought a hybrid. 🙂 )

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