Maybe it should be called Roostar’s Greatest Hits. Sure, they have Vietnamese dishes. But the menu also has favorites from all over Asia. Think Thai Chicken Coconut Soup and Bento boxes in the Japanese style.
And garlic bread, just because they can, and it’s the best damn garlic bread I’ve ever eaten.
It’s not a simple garlic and “butter” mixture that flavors this bread. Creamy garlic aioli is used instead. Do you know how some people swear that mayonnaise makes a better-grilled cheese sandwich? That’s the idea here. The garlic bread of my dreams, if you will.
That kind of creativity extends to everything on Roostar’s menu. I ordered one of their boxes on my first visit — chopped ribeye, fried rice, and a jalapeno-cilantro dressing. Their version of bo luc lac, I presume, with a citrusy glaze on the meat that gave the dish added verve.
Boxes are the build your own variety; start with your choice of protein (sous vide pork belly and Vietnamese ham among them). Then choose a side dish (rice, salad, or noodles) and finish with a dressing (fish sauce vinaigrette or a fiery yellow curry, anyone?).
My box was devoured. As was my bowl of Thai Chicken Soup, which was better than just about any tom kha gai in town. I loved that the coconut, while present, took a back seat to brightly flavored lemongrass. I loved the abundant mushrooms and chicken. I loved that it was piping hot, even in July.
A second visit gave me a chance to sample even more. Egg Rolls at Roostar are… egg rolls, but certainly welcome for any diner who enjoys them.
Chicken Wings with a sweet chili glaze were big and juicy. More sweet than spicy, this glaze hit all my taste buds in just the right way. You can choose plain, garlic, lemon pepper, sriracha, or something called The Whole Shebang if you prefer.
Ah, but what about the dish Roostar made its name on, the one prized by thousands on the streets of Vietnam every day, the one that was named best in the city by the Houston Press? That, my friends, would be Banh Mi.
To say it’s a Vietnamese baguette sandwich would be to dismiss its intense flavor combinations, the pure joy of biting into one. Yes, there really was a Banh Mi cookoff at the Houston Rodeo, and yes, Roostar won it, and yes, I tried the winning sandwich. Chopped ribeye, garlic aioli, pickled carrots, cucumbers, and cilantro give this Banh Mi such gravitas. It’s like finding a treasure chest at the bottom of the sea — with sharks keeping guard. In this case, the sharks are fresh jalapenos, a hallmark of Banh Mi but one that will burn like fire. If you’re timid, ask that they be left off.
According to Roostar’s website, “these authentic dishes capture the festive spirit of the Vietnamese street vendor scene. Visitors to Ho Chi Minh City get to dine while walking in a blur of blue scooters and brightly lit restaurants, and customers at Roostar get to live that same experience.”
Well, not exactly. Roostar is certainly a casual place. I’d call it “Fluorescent Chic.” But that’s a chic I can easily fit into.