Friday, April 30, 2010

Sandra Rice and Noodle

After sitting and watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations in which he visited Vietnam the other night on the DVR, I declared that the next day we were trying one of the Vietnamese places that have been recommended to me. Up until he got to the part where they dined on bugs and songbirds, I wanted everything he ate. So we sort of flipped a coin between the two places on the list, and landed at Sandra Rice and Noodles on the east side.

This is one of those little strip mall restaurants, but I like the way people are finally figuring out how to make them feel a little warmer inside. Use some warm colors (here shades of brown) and skip the stark white walls. The woman who helped us (Sandra I presume?) was exceedingly friendly and helpful. When we got there (fairly early in the lunch hour) there was only one other table. By the time we left, the place was full and several people had come in for carry out.

We wanted to try several things, and the prices are pretty reasonable, so we did. We ordered the starter of egg rolls (which were more like the fried spring rolls, but usually in Vietnamese cuisine spring rolls are not fried, so maybe that is why they called them egg rolls). These were the thin crispy rolls filled with a bit of meat (pork and shrimp), glass noodles and green onions. They were served with the traditional slightly spicy Vietnamese sauce. These were nice—very crispy and quite plentiful for the $4 price tag.

We ordered two dishes to share, the lemongrass chicken lunch special (recommended by our server) and the beef Pho. The lemongrass chicken lunch special included a starter of a small bowl of soup and one soft spring roll (wrapped in rice paper). The soup was the chicken and rice soup, which was one of my favorite things to eat when I was pregnant with my daughter. It is a chicken broth based soup, with some chunks of veggies (carrot and celery) and super soft and fat pieces of rice in it. I think I enjoyed this soup maybe more than the Pho actually. It was tasty and comforting. The soft spring roll was nice too, although I think I prefer the crunchy ones for the variety in texture.
The main dish, the lemongrass chicken, unfortunately, was pretty disappointing, mainly because the chicken was so overcooked. It was tough and dry, and some pieces bordered on gristly. The flavor of the lemongrass sauce was nice—the sweet tangy flavor of the lemongrass with a nice underlying spicy kick that built slowly as you ate it, but it couldn’t make up for the chicken. And there wasn’t much else to this dish besides the rice (a little cilantro on top) so there was nothing to really distract from the chicken.

As for the Pho, I don’t know, maybe I just don’t like it that much. I keep looking for some that is really good and I generally have the same impression of it—it just isn’t exciting. Pho is a rice noodle soup with some sort of meat (we went with the rare beef version). Ours was made with beef broth and had a bit of scallions in it. You are served a plate alongside with various things to
spice it up—bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, jalapenos, lime, hoisin sauce and hot sauce. Even after adding all of these things, I found it just ho hum. And after awhile, you feel like you are just playing with your food when you keep adding more and more stuff. And the “rare” beef slices may have been slightly pink before going in the soup, but were not at all once they were in the hot broth. I think raw slices of beef may have been a better option. These pieces ended up quite tough by the time you ate them. Who knows, maybe I am just a lazy eater. I like food to be prepared for me, and seasoned by the chef I guess. But I know that isn’t how Pho works. I guess I just need to stop ordering it.

My other problem is that I was spoiled in San Francisco with several really good, high end Vietnamese places. Places with a heavy French influence. Maybe that is more my taste. Because Sandra Rice has been recommended by many readers, and people I trust, and I just didn’t get it. If you like this place, tell me what you had; maybe we are just ordering wrong. Because I was a little sad when one of the two Vietnamese places that were out there giving me hope was such a disappointment. Oh well, there’s always option B.

Sandra Rice and Noodles
10625 Pendleton Pike
Indy 46236

Sandra Rice & Noodle on Urbanspoon


  1. The hoisin and sriracha that comes with pho really shouldn't be added to the broth if the broth is any good. Those things will overpower the subtlety of a broth that should take hours to make. In my opinion, they should only be used as a dipping sauce for meatballs or pieces of meat from the soup. Of course most places don't explain this, so it's easy to think that it's meant to be added.

    The herbs and bean sprouts are provided alongside because they will over cook if they are introduced to the broth in the kitchen.

    So I personally don't think that pho requires an excessive amount of customization by the diner. It is street food, after all, so a degree of customization is par for the course.

    All that being said, I've had the pho at Sandra Rice and Noodles, and I found it to be excessively salty. Noodle soups like pho should be more salty than not, but this was over the top.

    Like you, I did find the service to be very friendly and the space to be very well put together.

    What is the other place that you are thinking about trying?

  2. It IS street food. The broth, if prepared well, will have a beefiness/heartiness to it. NO Hoisin or chili sauce should ever be added to the broth. It's an unpretentious "ready-meal". Try Saigon's pho, then, and see if you like it better (you also won't get Hoisin sauce alongside there)

  3. wow..thanks for all the info you guys...and yes, Saigon is the other place on the list..

  4. If you go to Saigon Restaurant, drop by Saraga International Grocery just up the road if you haven't been there before. Commercial Drive & Lafayette.

  5. I went to Sandra's for dinner and thoroughly enjoyed my meal. I had the beef pho (my first time trying pho) and also tried a clay pot dish. I haven't tried Saigon yet- but it's next on my list.