There are very few things that can get me up early on a Saturday—fresh doughnuts, road trips to cheese festivals, the need to beat a serious brunch line, and the fear of Há VL soup shortages. You see, every day Há VL’s charming co-owners Ha “Christine” Luu and William Voung H. make a certain amount of the soup of the day and when that soup is gone, with a gleam in her eye and sorrowful amusement in her voice, Luu might tell you something like, “No more soup. Lucky for me, not lucky for you.”
There are very few things that can get me up early on a Saturday—fresh doughnuts, road trips to cheese festivals, the need to beat a serious brunch line, and the fear of Há VL soup shortages.
Since I like to get lucky, so to speak, with Saturday’s soup of the day—the Bún bò Huế, a rich spicy noodle soup with strips of tenderloin beef, spongy pork balls, and lemongrass—I anxiously set my alarm on Friday night and sleep fitfully, dreaming of pork balls and empty bowls. I suggest you do the same. The alarm-setting, I mean, I wouldn’t wish my No Soup For You dreams on anybody.
Finding Há VL the first time can be a challenge—it’s secreted away in the north corner of tiny Wing Ming Plaza mall at SE 82nd & SE Clinton, just up the way from the legendary Fubonn Shopping Center. While it doesn’t look like much from the outside, the interior of the little soup house is as warm and charming as can be, with avocado green walls, carefully hung bric-à-brac, and a curiously ample supply of pastel-hued straws.
A cooler holds an array of brightly colored canned refreshments, from the usual soda pop suspects to Yeo’s and Foco fruit juices and Capri Suns. A little television in the corner plays a constant stream of Vietnamese music videos, talk shows and soap operas, which add a friendly background hum to the restaurant, and while you may not understand a word of the programming, trying to interpret the plot lines will keep you busy as you wait anxiously for your soup.
If you’re a devoted fan of Pok Pok, you can also pass the time trying to get Andy Ricker’s autograph–the first time I ever slurped soup at Há VL, William Voung H. told me proudly that Andy breakfasts frequently at the restaurant before heading into work, and sure enough, midway through my bowl of soup, Andy walked in and sat down next to us.
Luu keeps a careful eye on her hungry patrons as they sip the fragrant house tea that tastes of almonds, while she stirs and scoops her gorgeous soups and makes crispy bánh mì sandwiches on Lanvin Bakery bread, in her tiny kitchen surrounded by hanging crystals and wind chimes—harbringers of, you guessed it, luck. May there be soup luck for all.
Executive Chef: Christine Luu
Owner: Ha "Christine" Luu and William Voung H.
Atmosphere: Immaculate, cheery, colorful little pho hideaway with warm gracious service
Outdoor seating: Yes, there are outdoor tables in the parking lot under a big tree
Best Seat: I like the little tables in the front window, but there isn't a bad seat. If you have a crush on Andy Ricker, try to get a seat by him.
Noise Level: Normal
Dress Code: Casual
Bring the Kids: Yes
Bathrooms: Yes, in the back to the left of the soda coolers, behind the screen
Parking: Parking is free and generally easy to find inside the Wing Ming Plaza where the restaurant is located
Teetotalers: A wide variety of American sodas, Yeo's and Foco fruit juices, Capri Suns
Coffee: Hot and iced Vietnamese coffee with or without condensed milk
Tea: Hot house tea and nine flavors of Boba Tea
Ideal Meal: A bowl of the Bún bò Huế and a sardine banh mi
Vegetarian Friendly: No
Vegan Friendly: No
Good for the following occasions: Pho Cravings, Out With Friends, Andy Ricker Sightings, Quick Hot Cheap Lunch
Take-Out: Yes, call ahead, $.50 cent charge for takeout orders