Lemoncillo: Vietnamese Food Arrives in Envigado

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Pho with chicken
Pho with chicken

Coming from the UK, I realize we are not renowned for our cuisine.

However, what we do have, notably in London and other major cities, is a diverse and eclectic mix of other countries’ cuisines, especially Asian food. It is one of the few things I have missed about the island I called home.

Indian, Thai, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese – all are now popular everyday dishes for Brits. In Medellín, not so much.

You have some options here, such as Naan, Curry and the Royal Thai, (can you guess the type of cuisine served at each?). All are decent, however, they are all in Poblado and can quickly consume a weekly peso-based budget.

Lemoncillo (photo: David Lee)
Lemoncillo

So when a friend had heard about a new Vietnamese place called Restaurante Lemoncillo and sent me a link to their Facebook page, I was excited.

Lemoncillo sits on the corner of one of the main roads heading up to Parque Envigado.

The small entrance, Vietnamese hat on the sign, and an interior with only five tables make it distinctive, but blink, and you would miss it.

Restaurante Lemoncillo
Inside Lemoncillo

The interior design is simple but classy. Photos of Vietnam adorn one of the walls and stenciled Vietnamese words with corresponding Spanish translation spread out across the other.

An open kitchen allows guests to keep an eye on the chefs at work.

The menu and this is a small detail but, in my opinion, illustrative of a place well done, has a blurb about Southeast Asian food and the differences between them. The menu even feels good to hold.

Lemoncillo does not have a huge variety of dishes, but quantity is often overrated.

A pork and noodle dish (photo: David Lee)
A pork and noodle dish

If you are feeling like a three-course affair, you have a couple of starters to choose from, including a chicken coconut curry soup for 9,500 pesos ($3.80).

There are half a dozen or so mains. They include a pork rib dish with jasmine rice for 20,500 pesos ($8.20) and beef in a lemongrass sauce for 16,500 pesos ($6.60).

The chef’s special recommendation (please note it needs to be ordered the day before – it is special) is caramelized pork belly bathed in ginger and lemongrass, served with coriander, Chinese cabbage and jasmine rice for 28,500 pesos ($11.40).

Accompaniments include a fried tofu dish for 8,500 pesos ($3.40), jasmine rice for 3,500 pesos ($1.40) and salted vegetables of the day for 6,900 pesos ($2.75).

Lemoncillo offers a set lunch menu for 12,500 pesos ($5) between 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday, which I will be sure to try in the future.

Lemoncillada
Lemoncillada

I opted for the ginger chicken with coriander and jasmine rice for 17,900 pesos ($7.15), which turned out to be an excellent choice.

Fresh and light, with well-cooked meat and sumptuous flavors in the sauce. It avoided the heavy salting that some Asian dishes are victims of, and the release of the lemongrass and ginger flavors hit the spot.

The rice was light with the just the right hint of jasmine, and the small salad was crunchy yet flavorsome. I was a jubilant soul.

For my drink, I ordered a lemoncillada 3,700 pesos ($1.45), a lemongrass lemonade with ginger and lime. Refreshing and tasty.

Torta Majaron (photo: David Lee)
Torta Majaron

We didn’t get a chance try the dessert, but there was a torta majaron with coconut sauce available for 6,000 pesos ($2.40).

The place and the food did not disappoint. It did what it did well. The chef is originally from Laos, where he was born to Vietnamese parents. He’s also lived in Saigon and Germany, and he obviously knows his stuff.

Word is already getting out to the Colombian foodies and expat community that there is tasty Vietnamese food to be found in Envigado (I am aware that this article might help!). After only three months, Lemoncillo is already seeing wait times for tables on the weekends.

I am sure I will see a few of you there soon, just please don’t take all the tables.

_______

Dave here. I ate at Lemoncillo shortly after Nick. I opted for a classic pho soup (pictured atop this story) for 16,500 pesos ($6.40). My soup was served with a side of lime, crushed peanuts, and Hoisin sauce, all of which I added. This was in addition to the standard soy sauce, fish sauce and a moderately spicy chile sauce that’s available. It was full of flavor, and the portion size was enormous. Somehow, I also managed to leave room for dessert.

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Nick is an international development professional from the UK and is currently working for an NGO based in Medellin that supports miners and their communities. As well as covering development issues, he hopes to share his insights into life in Medellin and the daily confusion/excitement that comes with living in the city.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. If that’s the Pho they serve, then count me out. Seriously, Pho is a simple soup and that thing pictured at the top, looks nothing like the real deal. That Pho is more like the Colombian version found at the WOK’s in Bogota. They aren’t even using the right Noodles. Seriously, I have dreams about Pho and lament the fact that a good bowl is impossible to find here in Colombia. Unfortunately, that stuff pictured at the top of the article, ain’t Pho.

    Why can’t there be an ok Asian restaurant here in Medellin besides Royal Thai? The majority of the places here are passing off simple and accessible Asian dishes, as gourmet cooking. That wanna be Pho and Bun Thit pictured above, miss the mark by a wide margin.

    • I have only had pho a few times back in Virginia and skipped Vietnam during my Southeast Asia travels, so I’m not one to evaluate the dish. I can say I enjoyed my lunch at Lemoncillo for what it was and look forward to going back to try more dishes.

      The issue here is expectations. If you expect to get the same quality Asian food in Medellín as in more cosmopolitan cities with large immigrant populations liek New York City or London, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

      Medellín has been closed off to the international world for decades, and it is only now starting to open up and attract expats. The ones with enough guts to open a restaurant offering food other than bandeja paisa deserve some praise. They have to deal with finicky locals and the challenges of sourcing and/or importing authentic spices and ingredients while trying to keep menu prices low.

      This city does not have a significant Asian population restaurants like Lemoncillo, Royal Thai and Curry can cater to and support themselves.

      There may be more foreigners visiting Medellín these days, but the main market will continue to be Colombians. A restaurant won’t be able to support itself on tourists and expats alone.

    • Hi D, sorry to hear that you didn’t like the Pho at Wok’s in Bogotá (which I personally haven’t tried).
      But we would be happy to welcome you to try our version, so that you don’t have to judge it only by the picture taken above.
      Our menu offers – among other things – the Pho Ga (chicken version), but on special request we also offer Pho Bo.(with thin slices of beef), both of which come with the traditional Pho rice noodles and fresh herbs.
      Kind regards,
      Kim Ngoc Le

      • Kim, I visit at the end of April and will bring friends along to try the Pho. My group are lovers of the local sancocho dish and I’m sure they would appreciate the finer points of Pho.
        Regards,

        Marcelo

          • Kim, found the place after a little searching, Really should have found it easier as its near a corner. Small eatery but enough space to enjoy with friends. Had the Pho and ribs and enjoyed them both equally. I don’t expect dishes to be exactly like my favs back home. I do frequent the Vietnamese establishments in the states and enjoy the Pho immensely. I’m a soup “affectionando”. Yours was different then what I am accustomed to but enjoyed it all the same. Took some Colombian friends and all enjoyed the food that was ordered. All the best.

      • So I did come into your restaurant last week, and I did order the pho. I kept an open mind and tried to be objective, but I have to say, I was disappointed. The broth was on the weak side, and totally lacked that spiced meaty richness that makes pho the great dish it is. Also, one of the things that makes pho so great, is one’s ability to add ingredients like fresh herbs and sprouts, as one sees fit. However, in your establishment, that was already done for me. That pho broth recipe needs some serious tweaking. I might try your place again, however it looks like I’m going to have to wait until I’m in Texas for my Vietnamese fix.

        • We tried Lemoncillo recently too. I’m a food blogger back in Australia, and we have a pretty decent Vietnamese community in Perth, so I was looking forward to getting a taste of what we are used to there.

          I have to agree with Dan that the stock for the pho was weak, to the point of watery… Very disappointing as the stock is really the soul of the dish. Adding extra fish/soy/hoisin sauce couldn’t make up for the insipidness.

          Having said that though, I really feel for the guys running restaurants like this in Medellin which must be an incredibly tough ask. My own Colombian in-laws are notoriously parochial (read: simple) when it comes to eating out, and if there aren’t beans, rice, and pork on the plate, then it’s likely they’re not going to eat it.

          To do something clearly very different from the norm, and to try to make a go of it without solely relying on tourists must be tough, and from the looks of what was going on in the kitchen the chef was taking great care with the plating and attention to detail of his dishes.

          I just wish I’d liked the food more.

    • Lemoncillo is very good. Overall it is not adjusted to Colombian tastes. Try it before snubbing it based on a photo. Overall, the food is yummy. The chef/owner is Laotian, and cooks authentically a combination of Vietnamese and Laotian dishes.

      • Hello Maren,
        Thanks for your comment. I m glad u liked the food we offer.
        … by the way I’m vietnamese who just was born in laos.
        Best greetings and see you again in our restaurant

  2. I just called 270 6980 on friday night 7:30pm, no one picked up the phone. I called couple of times. Is this restaurant still open? whats the correct address and phone number?

    • Hello Sam, the number you dialed was perfectly correct. But since Friday was Labour Day, we took the freedom to keep the restaurant closed for a day. Saturday and Sunday we’ll be open as usual and we’d be happy to welcome you. Kristina from Lêmoncillo

  3. Hi Marcello,
    Tmx for.visiting our establishment. Also tnx for liking the food we are offering. I m satiafied if u as clients are.
    Hope u ll come again.
    Nest greetings
    Kim ngoc le

  4. Can somebody update on whether they have Thai basil yet and bean sprouts for the Pho? I can understand that in the beginning it would have been hard to get the Thai basil, but three years later I hope they’ve been able to solve the issue of the missing basil.

    Also, when are we going to see a review of District 1 in Provenza? From the photos it looks pretty authentic.