Christina Luu and William Vuong don’t just make soups—they conjure liquid poems straight from Vietnam, each boasting a formidable broth, calculated to curl your toes with delight. In 2006, the Saigon expats founded Ha VL, Portland’s famed, daytime-only soup shop on 82nd Avenue. Now Luu, 67, and husband Vuong, 73, have launched a sister location with p.m. hours and new specialties to rocket eaters out of their pho rut. The strip-mall café’s menu is familiar to Ha VL devotees: two different soups daily, banh mi, and, critically, Luu’s fantastic Vietnamese iced coffee, dripped to order. Look for intricate fish soup, chicken noodle broth shrouded in shredded fried eggs, and fragrant vessels of mi Quang, packed with turmeric noodles, peanuts, and ground shrimp. The duo’s latest triumph? VL Special Noodle Soup ... a soup in name only: an Asian rice noodle bowl gone wild, heaped with a dozen flavors, aromas, herbs, and crackles with broth on the side. Your taste buds will giggle. Toss with chopsticks, inhale, and swoon; this is as good as it gets. (We annotate the bowl below, with Vuong’s commentary.) Most soups gain in delirium with a jolt of Red Boat fish sauce or the kitchen’s tangy chile blend. “We call it TNT in vinegar,” says Vuong, with a wicked grin. Believe him.
- Homemade BBQ Pork: “A slow cook in a hot pan, a little sugar and soy” are the only secrets Vuong will reveal of his juicy barbecue pork loin.
- Garlic & Star Anise Ground Pork: “It’s a lot of chop! Chop! CHOP!” says Vuong.
- Yes, There's a Broth: It’s what my Jewish grandmother would have made if pork snuck into the soup pot, delicate and soothing—but served on the side. Sip between bites.
- A Party of Garnishes: “Every bite is meant to be different—crunch, salt, herb, sharp.” The house bounty includes cilantro, scallions, aromatic Chinese celery, quail eggs, and two kinds of pork cracklings.
- Pork Table Sauce: For his signature umami bomb, Vuong reduces pork ribs down to their primal essence, then pounds in a thousand spiced pork crumbles. “Don’t drink it!” commands Voung. “Just spoon a couple of teaspoons on top.”