They may look too sleek but these Vietnamese cafes are affordable and authentic

“We wanted somewhere we could hang out with our friends regularly, and eat our favourite food.”  says Hoang Ha, co-founder of Mrs Pho. “I wanted it to emulate the language of Vietnam.”  The narrow eatery, opened in May this year, was made to resemble the gap between a laneway and a house, the walls stenciled with colourful numbers reminiscent of the advertisement graffiti in Vietnam, and clusters of overhead cables and construction lanterns hanging from the ceiling.

Mrs Pho is named for an idea and a familiar person: the warm, welcoming auntie of every family whose cooking defines home. Only authentic traditional dishes abound here, with most ingredients sourced from Vietnam. Other than their main offerings of pho bo (from $7.90), ever-popular beef pho with various toppings combinations, and pho ga ($7.90), chicken pho made with healthier grey glass noodles and liberally sprinkled with mint leaves, Mrs Pho offers monthly special dishes as well. October’s bun canh cua, crab and prawn noodle soup, was a colourful and slurp-worthy addition to the menu using real crabmeat, and we hear that November’s special will be a dish of stirfried glass noodles along the same theme.

The highlight of Mrs Pho for us were the unique entrees: So Huyet Sao Toi ($6.50) is a dish of cockles stir-fried with garlic and pork lard. Pry open the shells with your fingers, wrap a mint leaf around the cockle on a toothpick and dip it into a mixture of salt, pepper and fresh calamansi. The humble nem nuong ($3), meatballs sprinkled with scallions and crushed peanuts, were bite-sized and fragrant. Drinks-wise, the chanh muoi ($2), salty lemonade made with preserved lemons from Vietnam, is especially refreshing on warm sticky days. What’s more, a little birdy told us that Mrs Pho is ready to expand their menu, possibly bringing back some of the monthly specials that regulars went wild for. Sat, Mon, Tue 11am-10pm, Wed-Fri 11am-10pm. 349 Beach Road. Tel: 6292 0018

When Wrap & Roll first arrived on our shores, its menu was missing an item familiar to us: Pho. It was only added six months ago, to cater to Singaporeans –and you won’t find it on the restaurant’s menu in its original outlets in Vietnam either. Established by former Miss Sport and Iron Chef Vietnam guest judge Kim Oanh in 2006 in Ho Chi Minh City, Wrap & Roll opened its flagship outlet at Star Vista in 2012 and will open its fourth at Changi City Point come January.

Wrap & Roll presents region-specific recipes from Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh; and by importing over 60% of its ingredients from Vietnam, it tries to preserve the authenticity of its light, balanced food. We enjoyed the goi ngo sen ($8.90), a crunchy lotus shoot salad with prawns and peanuts served on crackers: the fish sauce in the salad completes the appetiser, paving the way for the banh uot cuon thit nuong ($6.90, pictured in main)–grilled pork steamed rice crepe rolls–a Hue region dish made from scratch with mint, lettuce and basil balancing out the savoury pork and topped off with sweet soybean dip. The bo nhung giam ($16.90, part of the BiTES 1-for-1 hotpot deal in Nov), is a beef hotpot where you cook the meat in a unique vinegar-based soup and make your own rolls with lettuce, cucumber, starfruit, rice noodles, mint and Vietnamese rice paper – part of an authentic Vietnamese roll experience. To end the meal, try their che dau xanh khoai mon ($4.90), made of sweet, sticky mung bean (think: tao suan!) and soft taro topped with fresh coconut cream, or the thick and fragrant Vietnamese dripping coffee (from $5.10) with condensed milk. Daily, 10am-10pm. #B3-19 ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn. Tel: 6509 1555

Bryan of Pho Stop serves Southern Vietnamese-inspired and aim to be value for money. Having stumbled into the business of Vietnamese food, Pho Stop has been a learning journey for him. After two years at a different location further down the road, it recently reopened in a larger unit with the addition of The Bar Above–an alfresco rooftop bar–complete with graphic rice paper posters resembling farming-related war propaganda, and the colourful chopsticks that has become its signature cutlery. The pho dac biet, beef feast combo ($9.40), with its optional toppings like the soybean-based hoisin sauce (made from scratch!), raw beansprouts and chopped chilli is salty and flavourful– we found the beef brisket in particular to be quite tender.

Catering to local tastes means that no beef tendons or organs are used in the pho. The pho chay ($8.0), a vegetarian pho commonly found in Vietnam and a hit amongst the health-conscious crowd here, has been localised as well, with the chef using traditional Vietnamese ingredients alongside his original broth. The bun ga nurong ($9.30), dry noodles with fish sauce, comes with a tender grilled chicken chop and the subtle taste of mint. Finally, try the iced Vietnamese coffee with yoghurt ($5.0), which Bryan added to the menu after tasting it in a café in Hanoi: Sour and thick with a coffee aftertaste, it’s an acquired taste that underscores the nature of Pho Stop, an innovative eatery that is still experimenting and growing. Mon-Tue 11.30am-10pm, Wed-Thu 11.30am-12am, Fri-Sat 11.30am-2am. 72 Tanjong Pagar Road. Tel: 6534 8178

From the same group that brought you Nam Nam’s Noodle Bar, the restaurant that started it all, comes Comnam Broken Rice, Les Amis Group’s latest casual dining concept named after com tam (broken rice). Broken rice grains, eaten by the Vietnamese during the war because it was unfit for export, absorbs flavours better than regular rice.

Little things throughout the décor and cutlery highlight Chef Nam’s attention to detail: The beautiful handmade blue bowls (no two with the same finishing), the coasters printed with scanned postcards from wartime Vietnam, and the newsprint oil paper that accompanies the fried food. The food has a slight aspect of fusion, with inspiration from the Japanese donburi rice bowl and introduction of kimchi fried brown rice as a possible alternative. We enjoyed the broken rice bowl with sautéed pork slices ($9), and the rice soup with soft fish balls ($7.90) made from Grey Featherback fish, common to Vietnam and sweeter than regular fish. The Four Treasures rice bowl ($9.90) is a filling dish customized to local tastes, with chicken feet skin used instead of pork skin.

To go with the rice bowls, try the spicy tomato soup with crab and pork ($4.90) or the crunchy golden calamari ($5.50) that goes swimmingly with the accompanying dill sauce. Our favorite drink here was the iced soda tamarind drink with peanut and sesame seeds ($3.50), sweet and plum-sour and refreshing. For the busy office crowd, Comnam also offers lunch sets made up of a rice bowl or rice soup, with a side and a drink, for $9.90 nett. Daily, 10am-9.30pm. #B1-46/47 Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Road. Tel: 6334 7377

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