At Nam Lộc, It's Crab Soup and Teeny Shrimp Pancakes with a Side of Law & Order
It’s easy to blast right past Bánh Mì Nam Lộc, socked away in an 82nd Avenue strip mall between a cigar garden and the All Ways Warm stove shop. But this cheery little hole in the wall is a gold mine of inexpensive banh mi, flavorful soups, and lesser-known Vietnamese bites.
Those banner banh mi are textbook Vietnamese sub sandwich craft: served on fresh, warm bread with pickled veggies and matchstick jalapeños. The meatball variety is a must-order: fall-apart morsels of deliciousness, creamy with fat, studded with bits of onion, and made in house daily.
But banh mi are just a gateway order. Owner and Saigon native Lộc Nguyen keeps a tight list of soups, from solid pho to a habit-forming bo kho beef stew. Order her hallmark: canh bun (pictured above), a light, bright house-crab-paste-enriched broth bobbing with tomatoes, thick, slippery noodles, flash-fried tofu cubes, and a crumbly, intensely spiced pork log. Doctor it up with fish paste and tamarind sauce for a complex, sour-salty slurp.
Nguyen emigrated 30 years ago, but she’s continued to make her favorite Saigon street foods for nearly a decade at this (not so) modest deli. That includes the house treasure, bánh khot, golden, Vietnamese mini-pancakes rarely—if ever—seen in Portland. The chunky baby cousin of bánh xèo crêpes, khot is made from a batter of turmeric-spiced rice flour and coconut milk; each bite a crispy, custardy journey punctuated with a pop of shrimp and green onion. Wrap a pancake in lettuce leaf with a bit of shiso, and dip the whole bundle in sweet-spicy-sour chile-fish sauce. Devour. Repeat.
Beyond the grub, Nam Lộc is all about iced Vietnamese coffees, neon fruit smoothies smuggling jelly chunks, and so, so much keno and video poker. You could happily waste an afternoon here watching Law & Order and Criminal Minds reruns and filling up on Nguyen’s comfort snacks. One bite, and you’ll never motor past this spot again.