Even though Houston’s Main Street has some location advantages – direct access from the subway line and in the most dense areas of downtown, midtown and Medical Center – it still suffers from spotty building abandonment. It doesn’t surprise, really, since Houston’s developers have predictably overbuilt commercial space. This new Vietnamese restaurant is taking up a sliver of what used to be a vacant building along Main Street and its a welcomed addition.
Cafe Helene is spotless, very casual and seems to cater mostly to the nearby community college and midtown lunch-hour crowd. Quite a few people were queued up for takeaway. The inside is a comfortable collection of high-waisted stools and padded booths; red, black and tan Asian inspiration meets IKEA. A good place to view the Main Street chaos through their floor-to-ceiling glass front without the noise or being constantly interrupted by street people with today’s poorly constructed ‘extract-cash’ story. There are a few outdoor tables should you want a more visceral experience. Me, I just want to enjoy an obstacle-free lunch and get on with my day.
I don’t really have a litmus test for Vietnamese food like I do with others. For my virgin tour I ordered the 3-meat vermicelli bowl – pork, chicken and beef. I tried each of the meats in isolation before mixing up the bowl. Pork and beef were fall apart tender and heavily marinated in a salty-sweet mixture leaning heavily to the fish sauce side. The chicken was also good but lacked the same flavour and had dried out a bit. After combining the chili-fish sauce-vinegar concoction with the meat, vermicelli, peanuts, onions, carrots, cucumbers and some scant herbs, I was happy with the result. I was even happier after I located the bottle of sriracha on the table.
The accompanying egg roll was blah but once it soaked up the sauce it was a moot point.
Order at the counter, take a seat, wait about 5-10 minutes for delivery. Very efficient.
3-meat vermicelli bowl, egg roll and bottled water – $11; totally reasonable.
In a city full of cookie-cutter Vietnamese venues, its difficult to compare one with another simply because the comparison isn’t usually interesting. They are all good, which doesn’t surprise given the large Vietnamese expat community, however only a few stand out. Cafe Helene is a standout because the quality is on par with its higher-priced counterparts but its service/price model is geared towards those looking for a good, affordable meal, not another sparkle and fade event.
Lunch: October 2014
Cafe Helene | 3101 Main | HTX 77002