Editor’s note: While (614) often focuses on the glut of new restaurants opening in central Columbus, it’s also our duty to put extra shine on those places requiring a longer trek. Off The Eaten Path isn’t just a ballot for outerbelt all-stars, it’s also a tribute to the places that haven’t changed their menu in decades, and often haven’t even bothered to secure a website. No, these places and their customers do the marketing themselves, and we intend to mirror such not-so-secret suggestions in this space each month.
I enjoy Vietnamese food. I’ve eaten it in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Washington D.C., Toronto, Portland, Austin, Nashville, Detroit, Denver, St. Louis, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and others. If you’ve come over for dinner at my place, there’s a good chance I’ve made you one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes called bún thit nuong. I evangelize for one restaurant in Columbus from the top of my lungs. I’m strongly suggesting you go to Indochine Cafe in Whitehall.
If you haven’t had Vietnamese food before, great. If you’ve had it a thousand times, even better. Husband and wife owners Amp and Phuong Mai knock it out of the park six days a week with a smile and will probably recognize you after a few visits. Columbus has one of the best Vietnamese restaurants I’ve ever been to (at any price), with some of the best customer service I’ve ever experienced (at any restaurant), at prices that every person who eats out can afford.
Real talk: it can be hard to find a good Vietnamese restaurant in America for a lot of different reasons. On one hand, a significant amount of Vietnamese cuisine in America generally and the Midwest in particular is hot garbage, as a result from the pressures of the average consumer for more noodles, fewer vegetables, more meat, less fish sauce, more blandness, fewer herbs, etc. On another hand, some places might maintain flavor and balance at the cost of relying on instant mixes, prepackaged sauces, and mass-produced canned or frozen food. On some weird third hand, defiantly authentic Vietnamese restaurants can often be forbidding, with a lack of written or spoken English and sometimes unclear ordering and payment customs. Some of the best of these operate out of the back of dimly lit Asian grocery stores. Indochine clears all of these hurdles by simultaneously: 1) remaining proudly authentic, 2) serving food made in-house with fresh ingredients and, 3) being instantly accessible.
Alcohol: some people drink it. It’s fine if you do or don’t. I think one of life’s most pleasurable legal experiences is a great food and drink pairing. So it’s often sad to me that many Vietnamese restaurants don’t serve alcohol at all. Good news! Not only does Indochine have a decent beer selection, they have a better than decent wine list. Sparkling wine and Vietnamese food are amazing together: it can cut the richness of a noodle soup like pho or complement the zip of the ever-present nuoc cham sauce that ties many dishes together.
There are a few details about Indochine that endear it to me on a personal level. I like that they embrace the tradition of Vietnamese restaurants and puns with Amp sometimes making them and wearing “What the Pho?” shirts. I’ve watched their daughters grow up there—from coloring books 10 years ago to taking my order last week. I like that they remember regular customers’ orders and details about their lives. But most of all, I love their version of bún thit nuong, one of our nation’s finest. No. 23 if you’re interested. As you may have heard, I’m strongly suggesting you go to Indochine Cafe in Whitehall.
Indochine Cafe is located at 561 S Hamilton Rd.