By Kathy Chouteau
Huong Tra Vietnamese Restaurant & Deli’s busy location at 12221 San Pablo Ave. makes it both easily accessible and easy-to-miss. But venture inside the Richmond mainstay, and you’ll be greeted with a warm welcome and food that will likely keep you coming back.
This reporter has been visiting the restaurant intermittently for years, usually accompanied by a “neighborhood crew” of friends, all of whom once resided in East Richmond Heights. And while this reporter and her husband, Zach, are the only ones still residing in our once-shared neighborhood, Huong Tra has remained our go-to spot for communal gatherings for our now scattered crew.
As one might expect, our group has some menu favorites when dining at Huong Tra, much of which we typically share “family style.”
For starters, we ALWAYS order the Shrimp Papaya Salad with Minced Peanut (#11, GỎI TÔM ĐU ĐỦ), which comes in either a small or large size. It’s a perennial crowd-pleaser that hits all the right culinary notes.
We often also start out with the Vietnamese Pork Fried Spring Rolls (#1, CHẢ GIÒ), which arrives with three crispy rolls, but some members of our group find the appetizer’s taste inconsistent at times.
On the entrée home front, shrimp dishes reign over the table during our visits. A major favorite menu item is Huong Tra’s Crispy Prawns with Ginger, Onion and Jalapeno (#77, TÔM RANG MUỐI), which almost everyone dives into. Another popular shrimp dish among our set—particularly for my friend, Ray Khoury—is the Stir Fried Prawns, Vegetable with Ginger & Onions over Rice (#83, TÔM, RAU XÀO HÀNH GỪNG).
In another shrimp menu item incarnation, my friend, Louise Harris, likes ordering the Seafood with Rice Noodle Soup, which pairs the aforementioned shrimp with fish balls, squid and imitation crab meat (#26, HỦ TIẾU HẢI SẢN) in a warm and delicious broth.
Given that this reporter is allergic to shrimp, I have to steer clear of some of the group’s choices, but rest assured, I have my own menu faves. The restaurant’s Sautéed Tofu with Peanut Sauce over Rice (#66, CƠM ĐẬU HŨ XÀO SATE) is flavorful, filling and leaves me feeling perfectly satiated even though I can’t join in on the shrimp feast.
Another shrimp-free dish this reporter recommends is the Skewer Grilled Chicken on Rice Vermicelli with Peanut (BÚN GÀ LỤI), which arrives in a sizeable bowl.
My friend, Drew Douglass, calls Huong Tra’s clay pot-style dishes, such as the Combination Rice Clay Pot Seafood & Chicken (#52. CƠM TAY CẦM THẬP CẨM), “the underdog dish on the menu…you don’t see them ordered much—but when you do, and it’s delivered sizzling aloud to your table, other people often ask what you ordered!”
As for deli-style selections, this same friend also highly recommends Huong Tra’s Banh Mi sandwiches; choose from the Barbeque Chicken Sandwich (#7. BÁNH MÌ GÀ); the Beef Sandwich (#8. BÁNH MÌ BÒ NƯỚNG) and Pork Sandwich (BÁNH MÌ THỊT NƯỚNG), all of which come with pickled carrots and daikon and are a great value at $5.25.
Huong Tra is open Mon.-Sat. from 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. and is closed Sunday. Learn more here.
Do you have a favorite dish at Huong Tra? Tell us about it in the comments! Maybe we’ll see you there?