Review: Pho Bo, Com Ga, Bahn Mi From Le Hoi in Noksapyeong (녹사평 레호이)

Le Hoi is located in an off road a few minutes walk past buzzing Kyungnidan. This street is definitely up and coming with new stores squeezing in all the way up to where the street meets Sowol road right by Namsan Park. I passed by Le Hoi when it was first being built and the little wooden tables inside and lanterns gave me the impression this was going for some sort of southeast Asian feel. It wasn't until a long while later that a coworker raved to me about the place and told me how delicious everything was that I found out it was a Vietnamese restaurant and I had to give it a go. Best of all? This place was literally about 8 minutes walking distance from my house.

Aside from the lanterns and little tables, the distinct bright yellow exterior definitely catches your eyes and eggs you on to come check this place out. Seoul isn't exactly known for its colorful architecture so you'd be surprised what a little color can do to entice.


Menu inside is rather simple with pho bo, bun cha, com ga, bahnmi and ngo chien on the menu. The latter two are priced at 6,000 while the rest of the mains are 12,000. Not exactly cheap eats but it is Itaewon.


They've also got a pretty wide selection of Vietnamese alcohol with choices of Saigon Beer and Hanoi Beer (6,000 for a 330mL bottle), Bia Hanoi (9,000 for 450 mL), Nep Moi which is a form of Vietnamese rice liquor (22,000 for 500mL), Hanoi Vodka (13,000 and 24,000 for 300 and 950mL respectively), coke/cider for 2,000.

As stipulated on the menu, the pork is American and German, the beef and chicken is American, the beef bone for the broth is Korean, and the rice comes from Thailand

Having had some drinks the night before, the pho bo was a must and after contemplating between the bun cha and com ga, I went with the latter, and then threw in a bahn mi order for good measure.


Besides the decor and drink selection, the owners definitely have gone to great lengths to bring in that local feel with sauces, utensils, utensil holders and whatnot imported from Vietnam.




With the low ceilings, what could have felt a bit suffocating is saved by the fact there's a few windows which adds in plenty of sunlight. The only ish I had was that it was pretty stuffy and hot but the AC was given a rest. Hopefully the AC is kicking now that it's July.

Bowls, water, and whatnot are self-serve. The layout of the place is kinda interesting in that the dining area is connected to the kitchen in the back. I'm sure the heat from the kitchen doesn't help with the heat of the restaurant but my friend who's been to Vietnam a few times said the heat while eating reminded him of his time there.


The pho came out first to our table. Like most Vietnamese joints in Korea, they tell you to specify if you want the cilantro in or not. We asked for extra but that definitely wasn't followed through. It smelled nice but already things like extra sprouts and Thai basil were missing. Broth was nice enough but lacking that oomph. Like a spice or two...or three was missing. Sigh.

It's ok. I didn't have my hopes high to begin with. And at the very least, it's miles above my neighborhood's Le Saigon which has really gone down in taste in recent years. So for now, I'll still have to somehow find ways and excuses to drag my lazy self to Wangsimni for what's still king in terms of pho in Korea for me. Damn, I can't wait till I get a lip smacking, toe curling, decent bowl of pho back home though....

At the very least, there's ample portions of beef, though the picture below doesn't show.


A bit disappointed, my expectations were significantly lowered for the rest of the food but the com ga lifted my spirits significantly with its colorful visual. The mix of tomato and cucumber slices, white fluffy rice, charred chicken bits, sunny side egg, golden garlic bits and sliced chives scattered about was just so pretty I was eager to dig right in. Plus, that smell of marinated chicken fresh off the grill is just too damn sexy not to give in.




First bite and, boom, I was smiling. There used to be an outdoors market during the summer seasons back home where there was a Vietnamese stall that sold great barbecue dishes for 5 bucks and I was instantly reminded of the dishes from there. Granted, using bigger, whole chicken pieces would have been nice but the flavors were all there. The chives added some nice aromatics as did the garlic bits which, was a first but worked enough for me. The fluffy long grain rice was a nice touch and I'm glad they added the sunny side egg for good measure. By far my favorite dish of the meal.


I had high hopes for the banh mi after being buoyed somewhat by the com ga but I knew as soon as the sandwich came to my table that this would not be the case.

Granted, it's a nice enough sandwich. The beef is flavorful, there's nice crunch from the cucumbers inside and what sandwich doesn't taste good with things like caramelized onions, runny egg, and whatnot. But a banh mi this most certainly is not. In fact, it tasted completely Korean. Gone are the soul ingredients of banh mi like cilantro, or do chua, or pate... in which case, fine, offer a decent sandwich on your menu but I don't think you need to go and even pretend to pass it off as banh mi.




Walking out, I was stuffed but I definitely wasn't fully satisfied. There wasn't anything at Le Hoi that didn't taste delicious but there was such discrepancy between authentic and Koreanized that it was almost too bad the food couldn't match the decor and feel in terms of the soul of its original cuisine. 

And if anything, I feel my thoughts on Le Hoi's Koreanization is backed up by my unscientific proof: both my friend and coworker, both of whom are native Koreans, loved and raved about the place while I was less impressed. I'm definitely not hating on that fact but I think we know who Le Hoi is definitely (and perhaps somewhat understandably) is targeting its audience towards. 


Ratings: 
2.5 out of 4 stars
If you can view Le Hoi as a "Vietnamese-inspired" restaurant and not an actual one, there's nothing wrong with the food in terms of taste. If you're searching for the latter however, it would have been better if Le Hoi put more emphasis on authenticating its food rather than its decor. Prices and serving size is comparable to average prices around this part of town. That being said, Le Hoi serves better "Vietnamese" food than what I've had or have yet to come across in the Itaewon part of Seoul.

Address: 
서울시 용산구 이태원동 261-9
261-9, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul


A bit tricky if you're unfamiliar with the area but...

Come out exit 2 of Noksapyeong station and walk straight about 300 meters, passing the Haebangchon street entrance and whatnot until you get to the overhead pedestrian bridge. Cross to the other side. Keep heading north (towards Namsan tunnel and N Seoul Tower) for another 300 meters or so. The Namsan Daelim Apartments should be on your right as you walk this leg of the journey. Once you get to the end there's a big street on your right that's on a hill going up to Namsan Park. The street should be Sowol-ro 38. Go up that street for only about 75 meters or so and you should see the colorful yellow entrance of Le Hoi on your right.

Telephone: 
070-4242-0426

Website:
https://www.facebook.com/lehoi.com

Parking: 
No official parking but people seem to park on the hill around the restaurant. Not claiming it's safe though...

Alcohol: 
Vietnamese beer and vodka available

Tip: 
Le Hoi has a break time between 3PM and 5PM when they're closed. Do avoid those times.

Le Hoi seems to do an occasional pop up store time to time at malls like Lotte Star City near Konkuk University. Check their FB for more info.

Comments

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Hey Stew, just catching up on your blog!
    I believe the pho that you had is northern Vietnam style which typically has lots of onions and cilantro as garnish and no bean sprouts or thai basil (sourthern style). That Banh Mi does look very suspect I agree...

    Catch you later on ig :)

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  3. ...apparently I have not commented on a blog in a long time...I had a very short-running tennis blog years ago, hence my display pic of Novak Djokovic lol. Anyway I totally feel your blog pain...mine lasted maybe 2 months haha.

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    1. Nah. I tried it out a few more times after and I've downgraded it to a 2 star now. Even the pho is going further away from the real thing, unfortunately, while prices are still sky high.

      You should get going on the tennis blog again! Lots of interesting things happened there the past year :)

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