Among the countable Vietnamese restaurant owners that ever bother to make their menus available on the web, Kim Châu and her husband put together quite a decent site for their Red Pier: black background, colorful foods, dazzling images of the bar and the walls, names and prices of 166 dishes minus dessert. Red Pier is a go-to when you work in the ‘hood, have an hour for lunch, and just want some normal noodle soup or vermicelli at a reasonable price. Or when you crave something sweet and cold and nutty, like a chè ba màu (trichromatic bean and tapioca ice).
Don’t drive too fast down the one-way Milam, you’d miss the restaurant for sure. It took us a few loops around until we pulled into the right parking lot, just across the street from the proprietors’ other business, Kim Châu Jewelers, on the left side. Also, don’t order Cơm Tôm Rim (rice with caramelized shrimp), unless you’re having salt-deficiency. If you must, Chè Ba Màu proves to be a comforting three-buck companion.
Do order #1: Gỏi Sứa Tôm Thịt (jellyfish salad with shrimp and pork), the only setback is its chilipepper overload, which I’m sure you can ask the cook to take it down a few notches. The thinly sliced jellyfish blends rather too well with carrots and cucumber strings you’d have to look to notice its cold, clean elastic crunch. Gỏi Sứa Tôm Thịt is one of the house specials that Red Pier emphasizes on their TV advertisement, and combined with large shrimp crackers it’s certainly a better execution of jellyfish than duck tongue and jelly fish at Chinese dim sum halls.
Do order #2: Mì Xá Xíu (char siu egg noodle soup). This is a cheap (only $6.25) and satisfying deal. It’s slightly more involved than Wiki Wiki’s saimin bowl, with crispy green onions and a meaty sweet broth.
Do order #3: the classic cold rice vermicelli (Bún) with the not so classic grilled beef (Bò Nướng), certainly bathed in nước mắm and garnished with chopped green onion seasoned in lard (mỡ hành), crushed peanuts, fried shallots, pickled carrots and daikon. For the greens lovers there’s that hidden pile of bean sprouts and shredded cucumber at the bottom, whose texture matches that of neither bún nor beef. (Now that I think of it, bibim nangmyeon also has bean sprout and cucumber, so it must be a cold noodle thing.)
Overall, Little Mom found the place less than pristine as the stir-fry smell sweeps over the metallic kitchen counter into the dining area. Red Pier’s chefs also take a tad too much liberty with the seasonings. But not all Vietnamese restaurants have jellyfish salad and friendly service, and usually the ones with 166 items on their menu don’t execute any of them too well, so I’d give Red Pier a B if the red-and-ebony dining box were a student in my class.
Address: Red Pier Vietnamese Restaurant
2704 Milam St
Houston, TX 77006
(information from der Miller: Red Pier and Les Givral’s Sandwiches are sister businesses, both on Milam St.)