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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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!