Best of two worlds

Rare beef pho is one of the Vietnamese options at Saigon 88, which also serves Thai food in a romantic, intimate atmosphere.

Rare beef pho is one of the Vietnamese options at Saigon 88, which also serves Thai food in a romantic, intimate atmosphere.

Photo By David Robert

Saigon 88

654 N. McCarran Blvd.
Sparks, NV 89431

(775) 358-9988

Do all couples argue about where to dine? I assume so. Sara and I have some of our liveliest conversations debating the relative merits of various international cuisines. I tend to favor spicy, legume-heavy fare, like Mexican, Ethiopian or Indian food, and if there’s ample opportunity to devour a cute and delicious animal (like lamb), so much the better. Sara likes more delicate, cheesier flavors, like those found in French or Italian cuisine, and she usually opts for seafood or vegetarian dishes, shying away from the gruesome slabs of rare meat that I enjoy. But we’re able to find common ground, and usually, after hours of debate, we settle on one of two options: Thai or Vietnamese.

Of course, these are compromised solutions, and each of us harbors not-so-secret preferences between the pair. Sara prefers Thai, and I prefer Vietnamese. This means that we eat a lot of Thai.

I’m usually suspicious of multi-cultural restaurants, but Saigon 88 offers us a nice solution of both Thai and Vietnamese. Our friend Heather turned us on to the place, and it’s a good find. The food is tasty and healthful, the atmosphere is nice, and the prices are reasonable.

One reason Sara prefers Thai over Vietnamese is that, locally, the Thai restaurants have better ambience. Most of the best Vietnamese places around town are in less-than-ideal neighborhoods and leave much to be desired in the way of interior decorating. Saigon 88, in contrast, scores beaucoup points for atmosphere: The space is narrow in a way that feels intimate, not cramped, the lighting is romantic (even at lunchtime), and the walls are painted a very pretty dark green color.

Before eating, we debated how best to pronounce “pho,” the highly addictive beef-and-noodle soup that’s the staple of most Vietnamese places. Is it pronounced “foe” or “fuh” or “fee fie fo fum?” In the end, we decided to call the whole thing off.

I ordered the rare beef pho ($6.50). They do a few intriguing variations at Saigon 88, including a chicken pho. Mine was pretty good, though the noodles were a little sticky, and there was less meat than I would’ve liked. Everything tasted fresh, crisp and clean.

Sara, predictably, ordered the Thai yellow curry ($8.50): chicken and potatoes in curry, lemon grass and coconut milk. It was good, though mild enough that it wouldn’t offend a newborn baby. Heather had the lemon grass bean curd ($7.50), seared tofu over vermicelli.

Heather’s dish was probably the best of the batch. That the tofu dish might’ve been the best dish says something about this restaurant’s ideals: cleanliness, freshness and a pretty presentation. This is great for the health-conscious diner, and Heather was quick to point out what a rarity well-crafted vegetarian dishes are. Most places just serve meat dishes without the meat, like the classic “bun and condiments” meal at any burger joint.

But for guys like me who like their food sloppy and flavor-packed, the dishes at Saigon 88 are a little mild-mannered. I can appreciate subtlety as much as the next food writer, but these dishes tasted tame and streamlined, devoid of any idiosyncrasies that might offend a sensitive palate. I personally like a little dissonance in my flavor harmony, but for health-conscious diners who feel indecisively pulled between Vietnam and Thailand, Saigon 88 is a good pick.