You would think having a very close Vietnamese friend would mean endless introductions to great Vietnamese restaurants, especially when you live in San Jose where Vietnamese restaurants abound.
But no. It took 16 years for T to finally take me to Bun Bo Hue An Nam, which she claims has the best bun bo hue in the Bay:
I didn't even know what bun bo hue was until she finally took me there. All those years ordering just pho when I could have been trying something new and, in my opinion, even more tasty. Thanks a lot, T.
The place was packed, which spoke to the truthfulness of T's claim. So packed that I felt rather embarrassed to take a photo of the general dining area.
Instead, I focused on what was on the table. The veggies that come with bun bo hue is slightly different from what you typically get with pho:
I've certainly never seen sliced banana blossom with pho.
Even though Bun Bo Hue An Nam has a menu beyond its namesake, we didn't even bother to look beyond the first two items. We also didn't share. There were five of us at the table and we each got our own small bun bo hue ($8.95):
Bun bo hue has been translated to "spicy beef noodle," but it's really much more than that. First of all, there's much more than beef going on in that bowl. There's also some kind of cha (think Vietnamese sausage), cubes of congealed pork's blood, and much, much more. I've never had so much meat in a single noodle soup bowl before and it was glorious.
The soup base itself is indeed a slightly bit spicy, but not crazily so. The actual Vietnamese people at our table added spice to their bowls, but I really enjoyed the lemon grassy flavor as it was. T's friend also asked for a side dish of shrimp paste and sugar. The sugar never surfaced (servers be busy, I suppose), but she let us all dab a bit of shrimp paste onto our chopstick to see how it tastes. Our conclusion? Super salty.
Another aspect of bun bo hue that sets it apart from pho is the noodles:
Instead of the thin, flat noodles of pho, the rice vermicelli noodles in bun bo hue are round. The ones at Bun Bo Hue An Nam has a satisfying chew to them.
Bun Bo Hue An Nam offers its bun bo hue two ways. With pizzle and without. What is pizzle, you ask? I'm just going to come out and say it. It's penis. That's right, penis.
The first time I went, I was a bit hesitant to order it, so I decided to get my bun bo hue without. But after I got home and looked up pictures of it on yelp, I saw that it resembled tendon and since I love tendon, I figured I would like pizzle too.
So in January, when CK came to visit the Bay from Chicago, my sister and I picked her up at the airport and headed straight for Bun Bo Hue An Nam, where we each ordered a small bun bo hue with pizzle ($9.25). Here's what the pizzle looked like:
As I imagined, the texture was just like tendon. Which meant I enjoyed it. Immensely. I will never have bun bo hue without pizzle again.
The small bowl at Bun Bo Hue An Nam seems on the small side, but don't be fooled. There's a lot packed into that one bowl. Definitely enough for me a on a regular day. The service isn't exactly the most attentive, but that's not what we're there for anyway, right?
And bring cash, because they don't take credit.
T did good. For once. She has 16 years worth of Vietnamese recs to make up for. She better get on it.
Bun Bo Hue An Nam
740 Story Rd
San Jose, CA 95122