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.
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
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.
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.
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.
1340 Rio Rancho Blvd.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 29 July 2011
# OF VISITS: 6
BEST BET: Fresh Spring Roll; Grilled Beef Wrap with Grape Leaf; Rice Noodle Bowl