Back in September, I posted an article asking Where's the Best Vietnamese Restaurant in Brisbane? Your answers poured in (thanks, everybody), with one reader suggesting that I check out AJ Vietnamese Noodle House in the city -- in particular, their spicy beef noodle soup.
Well, it's taken a while, but I made it along to AJ's recently, with a friend in tow. It's a small, unassuming place, located on Charlotte Street, just down from the entrance to the Elizabeth Arcade.
AJ's doesn't look like a CBD eatery -- which I liked. It's more like one of my favourite hole-in-the-wall joints in the Valley or West End. It's small -- holding just 10 tables -- and has the brisk, casual feel of a good suburban Vietnamese.
The menu is also small, featuring 18 dishes, most for under $10. You can choose from soups (e.g. BBQ Pork Wonton Noodle, Spicy Beef Noodle, Seafood Noodle), vermicelli salads (e.g. pork, lemon-grass beef, grilled chicken), various spring rolls (transparent and deep-fried), or a few other dishes. The menu doesn't have any vegetarian options.
I ordered the rice vermicelli salad with prawn, and my companion, a chilli-lover, the spicy beef noodle soup recommended by my reader. The tiny kitchen had our food on the table 10 minutes after we ordered. My salad came with cucumber, lettuce, sugar-cane prawn, mint and sesame seeds, while my friend's soup came with a side order of Vietnamese basil and sprouts.
My vermicelli salad was pretty good, though not as good as I get at my favourite West End haunts. Its accompanying sauce contained chilli (not advertised on the menu), which was a bit unfortunate, as I don't like spicy food. Still, the sugar-cane prawns were good, and the greens were fresh and crunchy. My companion loved his pho, and the sweat breaking out on his forehead within a few minutes was testament to its red-hot appeal.
We had arrived at AJ's around 11.55am, which was just as well. Within 10 minutes of our arrival, a queue had formed outside of people waiting to get a seat. This was obviously a regular occurrence, and didn't fluster the wait-staff at all. They moved efficiently along the line, taking orders from those who were waiting so that, by the time people got a table, their food wasn't far off being ready. Apparently you can also phone before you get there if you want to speed up the process even more.
Aware of all the busy people waiting to eat, we polished off our food quick smart and went up to pay at the cash register (beware -- it's 'cash only' here). We were back out on the footpath by 12.30pm, ready to return to work.
While I didn't choose the best dish for me, I count AJ's as a good CBD discovery. It does decent Vietnamese food quickly and affordably and, if the queue was anything to go by, has plenty of devotees. It's got great options for chilli-lovers, and I imagine that some of the dishes on the menu are chilli-free (or could be made so if you asked).
All in all, I owe my reader a debt, and I'm pleased to have found a new place to eat in the city.