I went for lunch on a weekday and was seated immediately by the proprietor, who at that moment also doubled as the waiter. I was intrigued by the bright-blue color scheme that dominates the restaurant. Some of my friends speculate that the blue paint suggests a connection to a French colonial past. I thought it might have been from a previous Greek restaurant or a nightclub. Regardless, the blue creates its own intrigue separate from the food.
For a muted winter day, a Vietnamese coffee loaded with condensed milk and sugar felt like a much-needed beginning surge. Surprisingly, the coffee wasn’t overly sweet or heavy. It may have been the best item I ordered that day.
For an appetizer, I tried the spring rolls, and for fried food they were good. The outer layer was crisp but flaky, and the inside was slightly sweet and savory. The proprietor is known for his side business selling egg rolls across the state, and in retrospect the spring roll seemed awfully close to being an egg roll …
The first entrée I tried was a large bowl of vegetarian pho with tofu. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese broth typically served with beef, white rice noodles, and an accompanying plate of fresh basil and cilantro. Pho is great year round, but on that cold day it was particularly appealing. Unfortunately, the vegetarian pho wasn’t outstanding, tasting cloyingly sweet. My friend had a better experience with the veggie pho on a previous occasion, but when I go back I probably will try a more traditional version.
The second entrée I ordered was a bowl of vermicelli with grilled, skewered shrimp. The shrimp was cooked wonderfully, and the presentation on the skewer added a small flair, but the rest of the dish lacked spice. Luckily, Sriracha (a red, vinegar-based hot sauce) was available at the table to bring the bowl to life. Sriracha is also known to some people as “rooster sauce” for its image of a preening rooster, and because of a general reluctance to try and pronounce the name.
I was a bit disappointed in my experience at Saigon Express, having had better Vietnamese food in Austin, and even better Vietnamese food in Houston. But with few Vietnamese options in San Antonio, Saigon Express is still worth checking out. The food is quick, inexpensive, and healthy. For me, sometimes that’s enough.
— Mark Jones
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