The name on the signage is Viet Cốm, not Viet dot com. The difference is more than semantic. In Vietnamese the term “Cốm” (with an accent denoting a high rising pitch when vocalized) translates from Vietnamese to a green sticky rice or green rice flakes. Cốm is a delicacy made only in autumn and cherished by all Vietnamese. You learn a lot when you visit a Vietnamese restaurant and are interested enough to ask a lot of questions. If Misty Do is your server, ask her about the family restaurant and you’ll learn quite a bit.
We learned, for example, that the family owned and operated eatery opened in June, 2020, just a couple of months after the Cabrona Virus shut down the world. Viet Cốm is indeed a family operation. Misty’s dad is the cook. Her stepmother, older sister and younger brother all help out, but it’s Misty who appears to be the face of the restaurant as you’ll learn should you peruse the restaurant’s Yelp review. We learned also that we shouldn’t have assumed that because Misty’s last name is “Do,” the family name must also be Do. Misty clarified that in accordance with Vietnamese traditions, women don’t necessarily have to take the family patriarch’s last name. Hence, the men in the family are “Nguyen” while the women are “Do.”
Viet Cốm is located on Carlisle just south of Candelaria. It’s an area with a dearth of Vietnamese restaurants though two of the space’s most recent tenants–Joy Cuisine and Golden Bird–were Chinese restaurants. The 2,584 square-foot building housing the restaurant was built in 1972, but doesn’t appear as long-in-the-tooth as other restaurants in the area. From the outside it’s somewhat nondescript save for the lime green trim. Interestingly, in Vietnam the color green represents jealousy or lust. The interior is pristine with bench seating hugging the east wall and chair seating elsewhere.
One thing you’ll appreciate if you’re relatively new to Vietnamese cuisine is a menu with color photographs depicting most items on that menu. Photos are so clear and beautiful they may invoke involuntary salivation. Misty explained that a family friend in Vietnam designed and put the menu together. She pointed out a couple of misspelled words and shared a laugh with us at grilled beef warp grape leaf. As if learning from Misty wasn’t quite enough, we were joined for lunch by Tuan Bui, my friend and colleague at the University of New Mexico who left Vietnam at age thirteen and moved to Albuquerque. Tuan has taught me a lot over the years about Vietnamese food.
Tuan is one of the few Vietnamese people I’ve met who isn’t surprised at how much I enjoy durian, the so-called world’s stinkiest fruit. Misty wasn’t surprised either, acknowledging how much she loves it, too. Among the beverages on the menu were durian shakes, increasingly a rarity in Duke City Vietnamese restaurants. I polished my first one off quickly then more slowly savored a second. Tuan also enjoyed a durian shake, but we couldn’t get my Kim to even try it (or even to go anywhere near it). She had jasmine tea instead.
There are ten appetizers on the menu including such favorites as papaya salad, crab Rangoon and egg rolls. Vegetarians will be pleased to find nine vegetarian entrees including pad Thai and curry fried rice. Few culinary cultures excel at vegetarian dishes as much as Vietnamese do. Seven beef noodle soups are next on the menu. Technically, beef noodle soups are “Pho Bò,” the latter term translating to “beef.” If your preference for a savory elixir is something other than beef, the menu offers four soups made with chicken broth. Udon noodle (thick Japanese noodles made from wheat) soups are also available. The menu also lists clay pot dishes and rice plates. For those of us who like a lot more personality on our dishes, Viet Cốm has six dishes showcasing spicy lemongrass rice and five featuring spicy curry rice. There is so much more on the menu.
The delightful It’s a Dumpling Thing blog warns, “If your dumpling imagination is limited only to gyoza or dim sum classics, well my friend, it’s time to expand your horizons because the world is wide and filled with dumplings… all of which are awaiting your discovery, dollar bills, and caloric regret.” In a feature celebrating 50 types of dumplings around the world, we’re reminded of the dumpling’s “chameleon-esque ability to adapt to regional tastes and traditions, creating a precious comfort food that transcends cultural barriers.” The author defines a dumpling as “simply as a blob of bite-sized dough, regardless of its filling (stuffed or not) and means of preparation (whether steamed, fried, boiled or baked).”
The forerunner to what most of us consider an Asian dumpling is the Chinese dumpling composed of ground meat or veggies encased in a thin flour-based skin. It is typically fried or steamed. In China, it’s known as a Jiaozi and in Vietnam it’s Bánh Xép Chiēn. By any name, fried dumplings are a favorite. Sometimes the only differentiator among dumplings served throughout Asia is the accompanying soy-based sauce. Viet Cốm’s sauce is just about equal properties sweet and savory. Dunk the dumplings into the mixture and enjoyment is sure to follow. Each order rewards you with six of these golden treasures.
The more you learn about dumplings, the more confusing the matter becomes. Wikipedia lists hundreds of “notable” dumplings. That list includes such notables as calzones, empanadas, hot pockets, kreplach and pierogi. Interestingly one “blob of bite-sized dough, regardless of its filling (stuffed or not) and means of preparation (whether steamed, fried, boiled or baked)” that didn’t make Wikipedia’s list of dumplings is the spring roll. Hmm! Could spring rolls be the black sheep of the dumpling family? They shouldn’t be. Dumplings such as those served at Viet Cốm are superb starters. Viet Cốm’s menu offers three spring rolls–one stuffed with grilled beef, one with shrimp and a vegetarian version. The grilled beef spring rolls are greatly enhanced by a sweet-spicy peanut sauce.
Similar to author Andrea Nguyen, my friend Tuan first tasted pho as a child in Vietnam. That experience sparked a lifelong love of the iconic noodle soup, long before it became a cult food item in the United States. When he isn’t ordering Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Lemongrass Noodle Soup), Tuan is usually ordering combination beef noodle soup. Different restaurants interpret what constitutes “Combination” differently, but the noodle soup is topped with sundry toppings including meatballs, brisket and rare beef (as pictured above). Viet Cốm’s version is set apart by a broth that’s light yet so full of flavor. It’’s infused with such spices as cinnamon, star anise and cardamom. It’s even got two types of onions. Perhaps what most makes this an unbeatable combination is what all those ingredients and flavors do to your taste buds.
You might think with my mellow, calm personality, my favorite Vietnamese soups would come from the pho family. Instead, however, my tastes lean heavily toward soups with a lot of personality (translation: spicy, piquant, flavorful). My very favorite of all Vietnamese soups is Bun Bo Hue, a spicy lemongrass noodle soup. Misty told me it was her favorite. It’s easy to see why. There’s a lot going on with this soup, all of it going toward the soup being replete with palate-pleasing heat and spice. It’s a rich and spicy soup with deep layers of flavor and herbaceousness melding with magnificent beef in various forms.
My Kim’s favorite Vietnamese dish is Combination Grilled Noodle Bowl brimming with grilled pork, grilled shrimp and egg rolls atop a bed of vermicelli noodles with julienne carrots and daikon on the side. My Kim douses hers with fish sauce. When she asked for a second portion, Misty confided that she likes hers swimming in fish sauce, too. To truly enjoy this dish, you might want to enjoy some of the grilled pork in its unadulterated and utterly delicious form. Save the aquariumful of fish sauce for my Kim. The grilled shrimp is terrific, too, and those veggies just pop with flavor.
Viet Cốm has introduced Vietnamese cuisine to an under-served area. Its Yelp page is replete with four and five star ratings with several reviews by return visitors and lots of praise for Misty. It’s a great addition to the Duke City dining scene.
2842 Carlisle Boulevard, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 15 April 2023
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Combination Grilled Noodle Bowl, Spicy Lemongrass Noodle Soup, Combination Beef Noodle Soup, Grilled Pork Spring Rolls, Dumplings