Matthew Lickona 4 p.m., May 26
Que Huong Vietnamese Restaurant
As Elizabeth Salaam recently pointed out, City Heights has some amazing places to eat if one is willing to look around a bit. Que Huong, tucked into a strip mall at the intersection of University and Marlborough, is just such a place.
Lavishly decorated, at least as compared to the more familiar pho joints that specialize in meals on the quick, Que Huong offers a more leisurely atmosphere. Whole families regularly sit down together around the tables that have Lazy Susans installed in the centers to provide access to the lavish spreads that come out of the kitchen.
The lengthy menu has section after section devoted to increasingly exotic meats. Beef and chicken start the parade, but they're followed by quail, venison, wild boar, and even crocodile. Adventurous eaters will have a field day with the 100+ item selection. Prices are all over the place, since some items are massive, family style banquets and others are as simple as a bowl of hot soup. Roughly speaking, ten to fifteen dollars per person buys more than enough food.
Part of the fun at Que Huong is that a lot of the food is "cooked at the table." A small sized "beef, shrimp, and squid hot grill" ($12.95) came out of the kitchen as a dizzying array of ingredients and equipment. There was a propane griddle, raw meat, cold rice noodles, fresh and pickled vegetables, rice paper, and a selection of sauces. The ultimate goal? Grill, roll, and eat your own spring rolls. It was incredibly fun and the heaps of fresh ingredients made more food than one person could eat.
Catfish steaks, a more single person friendly option, were cooked in a scorching hot clay pot that sizzled and bubbled on the table. The bony, fatty cuts of fish were a bit difficult to eat with chopsticks, but the intense flavor of the fish gravy was an amazing way to cook catfish, which can be a little muddy in more delicate preparations. The fattiness of the preparation might turn some people off, but the accompanying depth of flavor is a fair trade-off.
It's worth mentioning that service was excellent and the young guy working the dining room provided guidance and support for diners new to the restaurant and the specifics of Vietnamese, family-style dining.
4134 University Ave
Open daily until midnight