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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Thao Uyen

More good Vietnamese is always welcome, and the latest place I’ve found in Seongnamdong is my new favorite of the bunch.

Thao Uyen sits on one of the main north-south streets, not far from Newcore Outlet or the other two Vietnamese joints. It’s authentic Vietnamese with no Korean frills attached. It’s so un-Korean that I’m not sure the guy who served me even speaks Korean, but more on that at the end.

Up a narrow flight of dingy stairs (always a good sign for an Asian restaurant in the US), Thao Uyen has a nice big dining room, a view to the street, and a ridiculously huge menu.

I wasn’t kidding. No translations are available, but if you stick any of these names into Google you’ll have no trouble. There’s lemongrass chicken, Vietnamese hot pot, banh mi, spring rolls, pho, other soups, noodle dishes, desserts, anything you’d want. I decided to go for my personal set to judge any Vietnamese restaurant; pho, spring rolls, and a banh mi thit.

Sriracha, hoisin, fish sauce, etc.  The usual suspects.

First came pho. It’s great, flavorful, filled with cilantro and goodness. The first time I came here I got limes for it, this time only a lemon, but hey. They do have limes sometimes. They have all the tricks down too—the noodles come out slightly undercooked and finish in the broth, so they don’t get weird on you toward the end.

There is good pho around town; this is the most authentic I’ve had. Is it better than Pho Ban? It’s different, I’m not sure if it’s necessarily better but if you want the real thing, Thao Uyen is your place.

Next came the cha gio, stuffed with shredded pork.

Meaty goodness, and just imperfect enough that you know they actually made these. And great floating in your pho broth.

Now, you may notice I said I was getting a banh mi thit, and yet, there is no banh mi thit. Here is the only flaw of Thao Uyen, the service is not exactly with a smile. I don’t know if the guy who was serving me spoke a word of Korean because he refused to say anything. I wrote down what I wanted (since I am sure I can’t pronounce Vietnamese) and he was confused, eventually I had to point at the menu which I had copied from. He outright refused to serve me a banh mi. This is not unique, as the other two Vietnamese places in Seongnamdong have also refused me the honor of this glorious sandwich. One of these days I will get one, and my mission in life will be complete.

Personally, it doesn’t bother me. Putting up with bad/angry service to get amazing food just reminds me of Asian restaurants back in the US, but if you’re expecting to make some new friends this ain’t the place. But it’s so good and cheap. I am going to be going back frequently.

Also! They have a store!

Right upstairs from the restaurant is Asia Mart, filled with all kinds of Vietnamese goodies. The most exciting are in one of the fridges, where you can find… fresh limes. And fresh cilantro. Not even kidding. The limes are tiny, the cilantro is in generous bunches, and it’s right there! In Ulsan! Limes were five for 2,000 and one package of cilantro is also 2,000. If you’ve been needing these, now you have an option other than Gmarket.

Thao Uyen is located here: Since I couldn’t communicate I haven’t the slightest idea what their hours are, but both times I’ve been there were after 9 PM so they don’t close too early.

UPDATE:  I went again today and was able to get a banh mi thit.  It was amazing.  The baguette they use for the sandwich was SO good, someone who speaks Korean well has to find out if they make their own and if they’ll start selling them.  They’d make bank.