Fun in a box

Viet Ha Noodles & Grill

Viet Ha Noodles & Grill

2417 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818

(916) 391-9888

Good for: quick, tasty and healthful meals

Notable dishes: salt-and-pepper wings, pork banh mi

It’s a genius idea: Take the “Chipotle concept” and add Vietnamese ingredients. Make everything delicious and quick, and you’ve got a surefire hit. That’s the obvious draw of Viet Ha Noodles & Grill.

Open for a few months on Broadway at 24th Street, this new location is a spinoff of the rundown but still-delicious Viet Ha Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant (6534 Florin Road). Fortunately, here they’ve upped the décor and reduced the aura of grimy neglect.

The Chipotle concept is thus: Choose a starch— in this case vermicelli rice noodles, white rice or French roll—then add protein. Diners can choose from thinly sliced grilled beef, chicken, pork or butterflied shrimp. Everything comes with lettuce, bean sprouts, fried shallots, cucumber, peanuts, pickled carrots and daikon, and cilantro. The banh mi option offers additional jalapeños, sliced lengthwise and tucked in with the meat.

The noodle and rice boxes are served with either a tangy rice-vinegar vinaigrette or savory/sweet soy sauce. The former is similar to what you get with bun noodle bowls. Peanut sauce was available when they first opened, but it’s been taken off the menu, unfortunately.

Everything arrives packed in a cardboard takeout box, whether you’re eating in at one of the small tables or counter space, or taking it all to go. Grab a soda or Asian bevvie in a can and prepare for a hearty meal.

At only $6.99 for one protein and $8.99 for two, diners get a generous amount of noodles or rice with meat and vegetable sides (or get one protein with the $5.99 banh mi option). We mixed them all together and doused everything with the sauce for a salad-like experience. There’s also a small cup of chopped peanuts to sprinkle about.

We sampled all the iterations, from pork banh mi to shrimp with rice, and beef on every starch. The proteins are all good quality and cooked with care.

Viet Ha’s banh mi rolls are just about perfect, with a bit of crust but plenty of soft interior in the Vietnamese tradition. Our first sandwich with pork was fantastic, sporting bursts of heat from the sliced chile and juicy meat dripping everywhere. The second, with beef, was less successful and had too much added onion, but was better than average nonetheless.

The rice noodles are fun, like my favorite bun in a box, with the best version we tried topped with a mound of chicken branded with grill marks. Crispy fried shallots on top and the soy dressing added to the craveability of the combo.

Order shrimp and get eight big pieces, split in half and grilled. They’re ideal paired with the tangy vinaigrette and rice.

Also on offer are three small-bite items: egg rolls, cheese puffs or salt-and-pepper wings. They’re all fried in small portions and better for eat-in than takeout.

The thin cigar-shaped egg rolls are tightly wrapped and uber crispy without a lot of grease. The real standout here, though, is the wings: five superbly fried, meaty chicken pieces spiced with pepper and a sprinkle of chiles.

The cheese puffs are less successful—triangles of dough wrapped around herbed cream cheese. I’ve never understood this addition to Asian restaurants, and Viet Ha’s didn’t win me over.

Beverages include sodas and more authentic products like Malaysian orange drink and coconut water. There are setups for Vietnamese coffee behind the counter; ask for availability.

Given the choice of quick meals in the Broadway area, Viet Ha stands out for its large portions and relatively healthy offerings. Skip the fried bits and you’re getting a lot of vegetables with that starch and meat. At such reasonable prices, there’s no excuse for inhaling those grease-laden stomach bombs available at nearby establishments.