Asian Food in Poblado: District 1 Vietnamese Restaurant

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A new addition to Poblado’s Asian food scene has arrived! District 1 Vietnamese restaurant opened its bright red doors on January 2, 2018 to a collective sigh for those of us who have missed the Vietnamese comfort food, pho (pronounced fuh). Large bowls of broth and noodles can now be slurped for lunch or dinner without having to get our passports stamped.

The District 1 kitchen adorned with colorful umbrellas
The District 1 kitchen adorned with colorful umbrellas

Alex Nhan, owner and chef, named the restaurant after the busiest and most prosperous district in Ho Chi Minh City (still referred to as Saigon by locals and even carries the airport designation of SGN). One of the first things to catch your eye as you enter the restaurant is the painted doors to the kitchen. Inspired from a woodblock painting that Alex found in Hanoi, it’s an outline of a school girl wearing a bamboo hat and carrying the Vietnamese flag. Differently colored umbrellas garnish the interior wall above the kitchen, lending the restaurant a festive and open feel.

Alex and his small staff create pho from recipes handed down from his grandmother using classical cooking techniques and fresh ingredients. Pho is the main attraction at District 1, but there are other choices on the menu, with chalkboard specials offered daily.

The men who prepare the pho
The men who prepare the pho

The Talent Behind the Restaurant

Alex, a first-generation American, was born to parents who left Vietnam for Los Angeles after the war. Starting from nothing in their new country, Alex’s mother worked in a Starkist tuna factory until his parents could eventually buy a liquor store.  Through hard work, his parents put Alex and his three siblings through college. While he was pursuing a finance degree, his parents bought a carniceria (butcher shop), where Alex worked from 5am until it was time to go to his classes. This was Alex’s first brush with the physical activity of culinary arts.

Alex Nhan, owner and chef at District 1
Alex Nhan, owner and chef at District 1

After a career as a business analyst, Alex traveled and worked as a cook whenever money was needed. He then studied at The Sushi Academy in California, but sushi didn’t feel like the right fit. After a visit two years ago to Medellin, Alex fell in love with the city, people and climate, but noticed Asian cuisine choices were lacking. He saw the opportunity to revisit his cultural roots and bring authentic Vietnamese food to a growing and dynamic city. And yes, we’re ready for it!

Rare Beef Pho
Rare Beef Pho

The Menu

Pho, the star of the menu, is served in four variations. Special Beef Pho (Pho Dac Biet), Rare Beef Pho (Pho Tai), Chicken Pho (Pho Ga) and Vegetarian Pho (Pho Chay). The rich and fragrant broth for each pho is made specifically of beef, chicken or dried shitake for the vegetarian. All are served over rice vermicelli noodles with either sliced rare beef and beef brisket, tender shredded chicken breast, or, for the vegetarian pho, organic tofu, mushrooms and fresh vegetables. Fresh herbs, bean sprouts, lime wedges and jalapeño slices are served on the side. All pho are 27,000 COP ($9.81), which may seem pricey, but the bowls are large and can easily be shared.

Sautéed Pork with Noodles (Bun Thit Heo)
Sautéed Pork with Noodles (Bun Thit Heo)

If pho isn’t your thing or you’re craving something a little different, there’s Sautéed Pork with Noodles (Bun Thit Heo), also 27,000 COP ($9.81), and Spring Rolls (Goi Cuon), 15,000 COP ($5.25) for three rolls. The spring rolls have pork belly, shrimp, rice vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs wrapped in rice paper and are served with a peanut dipping sauce. These can be ordered vegetarian with shitake mushrooms and pickled carrots.

Spring Rolls
Spring Rolls

For beverages, no Vietnamese restaurant would be complete without Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk, 6,000 COP ($2.10), or you can opt for Thai iced tea. There are a few beers available and white wine by the glass. So far, no desserts, but we can hope that Chef Alex will find room in his small kitchen to produce a few for the future!

Hours and Location

Carrera 33 # 7-135 Vía Jardín, Medellín, Antioquia

Hours: Monday – Thursday, 12pm – 9pm; Friday, 12pm – 10pm; Saturday, 5pm – 10pm; closed Sunday

District 1 should be on your list of restaurants to try if you’re looking for an authentic Vietnamese experience or if you’re trying pho for the first time. Chef Alex uses only the best ingredients and utilizes classical cooking methods which require time and patience. There’s something for everyone, and, as an added bonus, all of the pho are gluten free! (Only the pork noodle dish and the peanut dipping sauce contain gluten due to the added wheat in the hoisin sauce.)

Still hungry for more local Asian food? Check out Shelly’s review of Bao Bei.

Have you tried District 1 or do you have another favorite Asian restaurant in Medellin? Tell us all about your dining experience in the Comments below!

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Chef!!!!! Great job on this review! If I wasn’t still in Colorado and was lucky enough to be where you are if be by your side helping you do reviews!!!! That sounds like a dream job! Not having to cook and just get to eat it and then write about it! Now I know you earned this amazing opportunity but still your lucky! I miss you, I remember you and your husband coming to my baby shower and now my daughters are 8 1/2 and in third grade. Crazy how time flys. Please please please if you ever come back to visit Colorado please tell me. I want to see you! I’m living in Telluride Colorado now and love it! I’m just so happy for you!

  2. Poblado is a bit far from where I live in Conquistadores but it’s still nice to see this info. The one thing that still amazes me is that none of the Vietnamese restaurants I’m aware of in Medellin serve those fried items the Vietnamese call Cha Gio. Those things are wonderful and the Vietnamese in Vietnam eat them all the time.

    And… although I’ll admit I’ve only been to Ha Long here in town, it amazed me that they didn’t have Nuoc Maum, that fragrant, fermented fish sauce that most people find a bit repulsive but soon come to love when they get acquainted with Vietnamese food.

    I love the stuff. It’s great on just about any Vietnamese food. Even ‘straight’ on white rice. And I know it’s not hard to find sources that sell it. I’ve seen it advertised for sale on a lot of cuisine ecom sites.

    Regards,
    Art

  3. Damn, that Pho looks legit. I have been in Colombia for 5 years, and every supposed bowl of Pho has been a disappointment. I think I am going to have to try this place next time I am in Medellin. Pho is my favorite food, and I would be quite happy if I could find a good bowl here in Colombia.

  4. Wednesday, March 21st at 7:30 pm, 3 of us were looking forward to dining at District One. It was closed. This was a week after your article was published. Needless to say we weren’t very happy!