Last Monday afternoon, my friend and I found ourselves taking an unplanned tour of the Dallas area, from Uptown to White Rock Lake all the way to Garland, after three restaurants we wanted to try were closed or out of business. Frustrated and starving at this point, I declared that we eat at the first restaurant we see along West Walnut Street. As we drove toward Walnut, I realized that this would be no easy feat as several restaurant signs summoned us. Amidst the sea of options, a sign caught my eye. Immediately, I swerved into the empty parking lot of Hu Tieu Mi.
Hu tieu is a Chinese-indigenous pork broth-based noodle soup. Chinese immigrants brought the dish to Cambodia, where it grew immensely popular. So popular, that to this day, the dish is thought to be Cambodian. Named Kuyteav in Cambodia, the Vietnamese name for the noodle soup, Hu Tieu Nam Vang, translates to clear rice noodle from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
While pho restaurants are well represented throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, I have never seen a restaurant specializing in hu tieu. It's a dish that competes with pho as my favorite noodle soup, yet, having been disappointed time and again when ordering it, I only eat it when I am in Ho Chi Minh City, at the famous Hu Tieu Hong Phat.
However, I was thoroughly impressed with Hu Tieu Mi's brazenly simplistic restaurant name and was intrigued to try its specialty. My friend, concerned about the lack of cars in the restaurant's lot, questioned my decision to make such a gamble in our famished state. She made a good point, but I assured her that we would order something small, and that I would take her across the street to the Boiling Crab if she didn't enjoy the house special.The terrible lime green walls of the restaurant do not give the eatery many style points, but overall, Hu Tieu Mi is clean and inviting. The staff, with their big smiles and friendly service, plays a part in the restaurant's appealing warmth. With Vietnamese restaurants nowadays boasting never-ending menus, I was tickled to see that Hu Tieu Mi's offerings fit on two pages, large font and all.
Along with an order of the hu tieu, I decided to try their pho ga, which came out of the kitchen first. The pho broth, yellow with fat and overly five-spiced, was unimpressive. Before I had a chance to panic, the hu tieu arrived, and from appearances, alone, I was not going to be disappointed.
Beautiful pieces of shrimp, pork, liver, lard, and spring onion sat atop a bowl of soy sauce soaked pho rice noodles, accompanied on the side by an amber-hued pork broth in a small bowl. There are different variations in ordering hu tieu. It can come with pho rice noodles or egg noodles. It can be ordered wet, which means with the broth, or dry, which means broth on the side. I prefer mine dry and with pho noodles, (I pour the broth onto the noodles toward the end of the meal). The restaurant's name lives up to itself, as the hu tieu is incredible. My friend, not a fan of the Vietnamese cuisine's overuse of fish sauce, reveled in the soy sauced noodles. The broth tasted appropriately like pork, and didn't commit the cardinal sin of being overbearingly sweet, a crime which plagues almost every other restaurant at which I've tried the dish.
The next day, still enthusiastic over the splendid bowl of noodles, I suggested the restaurant to my aunt. She informed me that she had eaten at the restaurant several times, albeit its Arlington location, and invited me to meet her there for lunch. Wanting to try some other items on the menu and being a fan of free meals, I drove west to meet her, her friend, and my uncle for lunch at the Hu Tieu Mi's sister location in Arlington. The Arlington outpost goes by the name of My Tho, a city in southern Vietnam which has its own separate variation of hu tieu.
The Arlington location has a slightly larger menu, and with more people in my dining group this time around, I was able to try more dishes. We decided on a Hu Tieu Mi Thap Cam (the egg noodle version of what I ordered in Garland), Mien Mang Vit (a duck meat and duck broth based noodle soup), and the ever-so-popular, spicy, beefy Bun Bo Hue. The hu tieu, again, was sublime. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the other two bowls of soup. Although I expect a certain degree of richness from a duck soup and a beef soup, both were entirely too greasy. My family members, who have never met a fatty dish they didn't like, had to concur. Globs of fat floated atop the soups and uninvitingly coated my mouth with each sip. The broth for the bun bo hue replaced the spice element with too many herbs, rendering it a false representation. I also would have preferred a less mushy noodle and more beef opposed to the insane amount of gio lua, steamed pork sausage, in the dish.
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Could the lesson be that variety is overrated? Overrated or not, it may be the defining factor as to how I remember restaurants like Hu Tieu Mi and My Tho; the restaurants that serve a great bowl of hu tieu versus the restaurants that serve a great bowl of hu tieu but not much else that is great.
Hu Tieu Mi
4425 W. Walnut Street, #301
100 W. Pioneer Parkway, # 156