Tamarind Tree is tucked away in the Asian Plaza strip mall in Little Saigon, a two-block hot spot for all things Vietnamese in the heart of the International District. It's received rave reviews since opening in 2004, thanks to its sleek modern decor, inviting atmosphere, and attention to detail in each and every dish. The menu features shareable traditional dishes with a fresh twist, like the green mango salad with grilled lemongrass tofu, spicy chili lemongrass chicken, and Tamarind Tree rolls served with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. They have a lovely covered patio that's open year-round, so you can cozy up under heat lamps in winter and fall, or order a fun cocktail and soak in the sun during the spring and summertime.
Next door to Tamarind Tree is a more casual, family-friendly spot that's serving up some of the best authentic, no-fuss Vietnamese cuisine in the city. It's covered in wall-to-wall faux brick wallpaper, and large groups of young and old diners sit around slurping bowls of rich bún bò huê (the other popular Vietnamese soup you need to know about). There's so much more to Vietnamese cuisine beyond pho, and you'll find a lot of the favorites here, like bánh xèo, crispy Vietnamese pork and shrimp pancakes, and endless rice plate combos like com tam dac biet with grilled pork chops, deep-fried bean curd, and egg. Let your kind server guide you through the menu and order you a Heineken that's served warm over a glass of ice, no questions asked.
Pho Bac, known to many as Seattle's first pho restaurant, has been serving pho out of that big red wooden boat on the corner of Rainier and Jackson since 1982. It's safe to say the Pham family knows pho—so when their kids opened Pho Bac Súp Shop in the same lot earlier this year, you knew it would draw a following. Everything, from the neon signage to the drink list featuring bourbon with pho aromatics (a MUST!), pays tribute to the family's roots through a modern, hipster lens. The pho is obviously great—but the standouts are really on the bites menu, which features twice-fried chicken wings with sweet and tangy tamarind sauce, spicy pork sliders, fries with lemongrass sauce, and so much more!
When you can get a delicious bánh mì in the city for less than $4—you order two. And you won't regret it! People line up at this little counter deli for good reason—the pork is perfectly seasoned and the French bread is crispy on the outside yet fluffy on the inside, plus it comes loaded with all the right veggies and extra cilantro. You could opt to order your sandwich with ham, chicken, or tofu instead—but why mess with a good thing? These are utter perfection, and a great snack to grab before you head off on a hike or take on a picnic in Hing Hay Park. There are no seats here, so plan ahead for a grab-and-go meal, or plant yourself on the curb out front.
It took me a while to try Green Leaf, but I'm so glad I did. The hole-in-the-wall original Chinatown location (with other locations in Belltown and Bellevue) is kitty-corner from the Wing Luke Museum, and definitely provides the fastest service on the list if you're in a pinch and want to get in and out on your lunch hour, or just in record time. The veggie pho overflows with Chinese broccoli, bok choy, carrots, and tofu, and the broth is as rich and aromatic as any brisket or pork pho I've ever tasted. They have a number of vermicelli combos that look delicious, as well as goi salads, congee, and udon noodles tossed with shrimp and crab or pork. Go here for an intimate date night or quick dinner before you sing your karaoke heart out at Bush Garden.
This unassuming spot in a White Center strip mall is serving up some of the best (if not the best!) pho in the city. The difference between good and great pho is all about the broth, which here is consistently light yet subtly rich and complex in flavor. Taste it before you start dumping in the plum sauce and red pepper flakes—you won't need as much as you think. I've been ordering the brisket pho to cure lingering colds or afternoon hangovers for more than 17 years, and it always hits the spot. They're graciously heavy-handed with their toppings, too (piles of bean sprouts, cilantro, and jalapeños for everyone!). Order the iced Viet coffee with condensed milk for a decadent caffeine fix, and don't miss the spring rolls with peanut sauce, the tangy barbecue chicken, or the prawn skewers.
Ba Bar is your go-to restaurant for consistently fantastic Vietnamese in Seattle—and you can have it morning, noon, and night. They now have three locations (Capitol Hill, SLU, and U-Village) where you can get fluffy croissants, pastries, and macaroons in the morning, and pho served several ways, inventive bowls of vermicelli noodles with pork belly, or Washington-coast-caught rockfish in the afternoon and evening. Come here for specialties like bánh cuôn—handmade rice sheets with Carlton Farms pork belly served Hanoi or Sái Gón style—and linger for the late-night happy hour and craft cocktails like the Nguyen Dynasty, a gin drink with rhubarb syrup, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and extra bubbly.
Purists take note: This is technically a Chinese noodle house, serving both Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine, but get over it—this OG restaurant came to fruition in Saigon, and their noodle dishes will have you professing love at first bite. With locations in the International District, Kent, Tacoma, and now Century Link Field, South Enders will be hard-pressed to find fresher noodles around the city. They serve three types of noodles piled high—egg, rice, and vermicelli—either in broth or dry with familiar proteins like chicken or barbecue pork, or the more inventive five-spice braised duck or spare ribs. People travel far and wide for the fried butter garlic chicken wings—a perfect starter when paired with prawn or squid chow mein, or chow fun, a delightful Cantonese wide-rice noodle dish.
Pho Hai Yen sits on the outskirts of the International District, on Rainier Avenue, several blocks away from the bustle of Jackson Street. You've probably driven right past it on your way into the city. It's worth a pit stop next time for the giant pork and shrimp spring rolls, or for the bún bò huê—which comes in 10 different varieties, including four pork options. Order the No. 23 bún bò huê that comes with tender beef, pork meatballs, and pork blood cake—it packs a lot of unexpected heat and will give you street cred with the owners. Cool down with a chè trai vai, a sweet and subtly tart lychee beverage—or, if you're feeling adventurous, the nuóc rau má, a pennywort drink that's been a popular vegetable juice in Vietnamese cuisine long before cold-pressed kale was a thing.
Rainier Valley is a melting pot of Mexican, Ethiopian, Laotian, Senegalese, and a ton of other great restaurants—a good representation of the community that lives there. When residents want Vietnamese, they head to the relatively new Wicked Chopstix, which gained notoriety after putting the Bun Cha Obama (also known as the Obama noodle) on the menu. Named after the dish former President Obama and Anthony Bourdain shared on an episode of Parts Unknown, it features crispy pork swimming in a fish sauce broth with vermicelli noodles, egg rolls, and an array of veggies to build your own lettuce wraps or soup. Beyond the standard brisket and pork pho you often see, they also serve up pho with lobster claw, oxtail, and tenderloin steak that are top-notch.