By Robin Garr
Okay, letâ€™s run the numbers here. Vietnam Kitchen has been open for about 20.5 years, six days a week. That’s roughly 6,500 days of serving the public since Alex and Kim Lam brought this lovable institution to town in 1993.
Thinking out loud, that means that if every day they sell five orders of â€œK8,â€ the menu shorthand for Há»§Â tiáº¿uÂ SatÃ©, a delectable rice-noodle dish thatâ€™s surely one of Vietnam Kitchenâ€™s top hot-and-spicy dishes, they must have stir-fried way more than 30,000 orders of it by now.
If the Lams were more boastful types, they could put out a flashing sign that boasts, â€œNearly 50,000 K8â€™s sold!â€ (Yeah, I know I guesstimated 30,000, but hey, nobody fact-checks Mickey Dâ€™s â€œbillions and billionsâ€ either, right?)
And this dish is popular. Look up â€œVietnam Kitchen K8â€ on Google and you get back 982,000 results. Run similar searches on the LouisvilleHotBytes.com forum and find scores of discussions, where youâ€™ll never find a discouraging word about this iconic stir-fry other than, maybe, â€œI wish theyâ€™d make it even hotter.â€
Most of my foodie pals who trek out to Vietnam Kitchen regularly just canâ€™t get away without ordering K8 (available with beef, chicken or pork) or VK8 (its meatless twin, with tofu).
The dish is currently tagged at $10 for a generous bowl full. Itâ€™s listed under â€œstir-fried noodlesâ€ on VKâ€™s organized-by-style menu, but thatâ€™s just the base: A bowl of white noodles, a bit like soft, textured spaghetti despite their origin being in rice, not wheat, is joined by a ration of crisp bean sprouts that offer a toothy contrast with the noodles. The noodles and sprouts are cloaked in a thick, savory-spicy brown satÃ© sauce scented with lemongrass and chopped peanuts, and topped off with your choice of meat or chewy triangles of pressed, fried tofu.
Itâ€™s marked with three stars, the top level on the menuâ€™s heat scale, but Iâ€™ve found it variably piquant, ranging from a subtle, mellow heat to a more attention-getting burn on any given day. It may help to discuss this with your server in advance, although itâ€™s ultimately up to the kitchen. Youâ€™ll also find Sriracha â€œRoosterâ€ sauce and fiery chile sauce with garlic on the table. Use them responsibly.
But itâ€™s not all about K8. Thereâ€™s too much else thatâ€™s good among the (count â€˜em) 125 dishes listed. And just about everything bar a couple of seafood dishes is under $10. I wonâ€™t say Iâ€™ve tried everything on the menu, even over 20 years, but Iâ€™ve been through enough of it to say this with confidence â€“ itâ€™s all good.
On our recent visit, in addition to a fine rendition of the standard VK8, we enjoyed two pairs of appetizer rolls packed in translucent rice paper: BÃ²Â BiÃ¡ Chay (VA33, $3.50), stuffed with Buddhist â€œmock duck,â€ gluten-based faux fowl that tastes a lot like the real thing; and Gá»i cuá»‘n bÆ¡Â (VA5, $2.95), stuffed with avocado slices.
We lingered over the selection of Phá»Ÿ and BÃºn (meal-size soups) and appetizing rice dishes before coming back to another noodle dish, Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio (J7, $8.55), Â a hearty mix of chunks of char-broiled pork and broken-up bits of tiny egg rolls over stir-fried noodles, topped with chunks of romaine, mint and julienned cucumber, in a light lemongrass-scented sauce.
With iced jasmine tea ($1.89), a fine Vietnamese dinner came to a reasonable $27.60 for two; plus a $6 tip.
5339 Mitscher Ave.