LOOKING FOR A great place to eat a warm bowl of noodle soup at an affordable price, and only a 10-minute walk from the Pio stop? If so, you must try Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen on 2nd and Taylor. Don’t be tempted by the hundreds of other Vietnamese restaurants in SW Portland – there’s a reason why people wait for an hour in the rain to eat at this unassuming little restaurant downtown.
A meal at Luc Lac is a meal like no other. After waiting in line from anywhere between ten minutes and an hour, food and drinks are ordered at the counter. Unfortunately, your food won’t be ready until a table opens up. To someone like me who is always impatient to eat, this can be an issue; I’ve had to wait after ordering for almost a half hour before. When at last your table is ready, you’ll pick up silverware, napkins, and chopsticks from a cart to bring with you. I’m not sure whether this is to save time for the busy Luc Lac servers, who just have to bus dirty dishes, or done for stylistic reasons, but it’s kind of fun to do yourself. When you finally arrive at your table, your meal will be out within a minute, which is a great relief after having waited for so long.
As far as what to order, I’ve gone with friends who swear by the cold vermicelli noodles or their fantastic banh mi sandwiches. But after walking from the Pio stop in the cold rain, and then more often than not being stuck outside waiting to order, I can’t help but order Luc Lac’s pho noodle soup. For $8, you get an enormous, piping hot bowl filled with fresh vegetables and your choice of tofu, steak, chicken, or brisket. I’m always amazed by how much stuff they throw in with the noodles, and by how flavorful the soup is even before I add hot sauce. There’s a reason why Luc Lac has a second counter under a sign “Order More Here”: more often than not I’ve finished my bowl of pho and considered taking another back home with me for later.
Don’t be fooled by the cheap main course prices, however: once you’ve tried Luc Lac’s fantastic appetizers, such as their spring rolls ($5) or coconut prawns ($6), you’ll always want to order them along with your meal. I have never enjoyed coconut in anything, but after going out on a limb and trying the coconut shrimp, I instantly fell in love with the dish and order it without fail whenever I go.
If you’re in the mood for something a little different, I’d also recommend the peanut curry, as well as Luc Lac’s exceptionally flavorful stir fry. As with the coconut shrimp, I was skeptical when I first ordered the coconut curry. However, after I was pleasantly surprised by the dish’s rich and complex flavor, I’m proud to say I have found a second coconut dish I enjoy, and both are on Luc Lac’s menu.
I suppose my only real issues with Luc Lac are the wait times you have to endure in order to get a meal. The restaurant is in a very small location, with a bar thrown in the middle of the general dining area. Because of this, there are fewer than 20 tables. I honestly wouldn’t mind the wait as much if there was more space inside for diners to wait for their food. However, more often than not, the unlucky masses are stuck waiting on the sidewalk in the rain before waiting longer inside after ordering. You’re also at an advantage if you’re 21+, since you can secure a seat at the bar and enjoy your food along with one of Luc Lac’s signature cocktails.
But is the wait worth it? Yes, but come early! If you’re not waiting in line before 5:30 any night of the week, you’ll definitely have to wait a while for your food.