In the court of public opinion, Huong deserved an official judgment. Because, according to e-mails sent to me and dependable restaurant-insider evidence, that mom-and-pop, Morse Road eatery was not only excellent but neglected in the press.
After trying the case thoroughly through prudently chewed examinations, I can now bang the gavel and declare the Huong jury is in. Verdict: this place is guilty in the first degree of serving super-fresh, cheap and terrific-tasting Vietnamese cuisine. I hereby sentence Huong to multitudinous future visits by me and everybody reading this.
Huong's drab little strip mall exterior might be less than inspiring, but its interior couldn't be accused of lacking character. Its spare main room is amusingly adorned with fake plants, lacy parlor-style curtains of racy red, a continually activated TV and a dreamily blue, wall-length mural depicting a frothing ocean shoreline scene.
A few great intros to Huong's texturally intriguing, excitingly cheap and vibrantly flavored, very fresh food would be these starters:
* Banh Bot Loc ($3.50): six semi-transparent "tapioca cake" ravioli, chewy as gumdrops, filled with nuggets of delicious pork sausage and shrimp and capped with crisp fried garlic;
* Goi Du Du Bo Kho ($5): Huong's idiosynchratic, unspicy take on the green papaya salad with homemade, star anisey "beef jerky," sweetened fish sauce and crushed nuts; and
* Goi Con Tom Thit ($3): two unfried fatboy rice-paper rolls with segments of nice shrimp and five-spiced pork flavoring wads of rice noodles.
I also loved the pleasantly thin and crispy (if a tad oily) Vietnamese crepe (Banh Xeo, $8) which could double as an entree or shared app. Less omelet-y than the Korean version, it was filled with Huong's clean-tasting shrimp, mung bean sprouts and strips of savory pork. Great on its own, it took on multiple more dimensions of crunch and flavor when wrapped like a taco in lettuce with mint, cilantro and sweetened fish sauce.
A Vietnamese eatery needs to get the pho right, and Huong's bathtub-sized servings were indeed pho-tastic. The novice-friendly Pho Tai (rare steak noodle soup, $6.50) featured a delicate yet not subtle, perfumy broth in which thin sheets of beef steeped and cooked.
More complex was the Hu Tien Nam Vang (Phnom Penh noodle soup, $7.50). That one had shrimp, meaty slices of pork, tons of sauteed garlic and unadvertised slivers of liver. I slurped it with gusto even though its quail eggs were drastically overcooked.
Those good shrimp - lots of them - reappeared in deeply seared form in the recommended Bun Tom Nuong ($8). The shellfish starred atop a massive bowl of wispy rice noodles accented by crinkle-cut daikon radishes and carrots plus a sort of salad of lettuces, bean sprouts and such - all of it to be embellished with pho-appropriate leaves and liquids.
Another highlight was the Com Suron Bi Cha (steamed rice with combo pork chop, $8.50). This was a veritable banquet on a plate, and the kind of giant entree that starts fights with diners pretending to share. A mammoth, seared, juicy, aromatic chop kept platter space with a surprising "egg loaf" (a warm, salty, semi-spongy quiche-like wedge), shredded pork with a nifty sprinkling of roasted rice powder, rice, and a ton of the usual salady add ons.
Che 3 Mau ($3.50), one of Huong's typically beveragey desserts, was a wild riot of textures and sweetened beans, and a fitting end to a meal here.