Green Basil—Hidden Gem

August 2013 View more


If there’s any veracity to the old real estate mantra “location, location, location” as it applies to the restaurant business, then the folks at Green Basil have their work cut out for them. While this cozy Vietnamese eatery carries a Jefferson Street mailing address that situates it just a short walk from the hungry hordes of downtown proper, it’s not quite in the middle of that maelstrom. Further, while the building itself fronts Jefferson just east of the lively patio scene at Quigley’s, diners enter Green Basil, and its own low-key al fresco area, by passing a salon via a short brick walkway to the side door. Signage, in keeping with the theme, is minimal and unassuming.

On the surface, the deck is mostly stacked against success for this little cove of commerce. Yet there’s something to be said­—quite a bit, as it turns out—for making the most of a challenging location.

N2013_08_01_019TABLEBeyond Asia’s Greatest Hits

The simple choice to focus on the tastes and textures of Vietnam is in itself something of a minor victory here, adding some much-needed diversity to downtown’s Asian pantheon. While newcomers to the cuisine will be comforted by the familiar presence of some common ingredients alongside their rice and noodles, a deeper dive into the menu is sure to open new horizons for those venturing in for the first time.

For example, a quick survey of the appetizer slate may turn up an old standard like spring rolls, but there are also a few unexpected surprises like calamari and sticky wings to be found. Likewise, the entrée list may feature a prototypical Asian main course like crispy tofu and broccoli with steamed rice, but those looking to branch out will also find seafood crepes and even a pork chop with a fried egg slightly further down the page.

Soup and Sandwich

But where the hidden gem of Green Basil most brightly shines is in the space on the menu between those appetizers and entrees, where a quintet of banh mi (sandwiches) and a dozen varieties of pho (noodle soups) do much of the heavy lifting. Just watch the parade of enormous steaming bowls emerging from the kitchen on any given night for proof that pho is indeed the star of Vietnamese cuisine.

N2013_08_01_020TABLEWhile my companion opted for and enjoyed the aforementioned tofu entrée, I felt an obligation to see what all the fuss was about for a simple soup and sandwich—a seemingly pedestrian combo that Kenny Bania didn’t even consider a meal. From a selection of mostly beef-based options, I chose a simple combination of sliced beef and vermicelli noodles in a fragrant broth rich with basil, cilantro, and green onion, which was served alongside a heaping plate of add-ins, including bean sprouts and jalapeno slices, as well as more fresh basil and cilantro. A steaming bowl of noodle soup might be a tough sell on a sticky August evening, but this is a dish not to be missed, regardless of the temperature outside. The banh mi, was a perfectly crusty roll packed to capacity with sliced marinated pork, carrot, cucumber, cilantro, daikon and jalapeno slices.

Of course, one important takeaway, so to speak, was that trying to finish both the banh mi and the pho was a hopeless effort for a non-competitive eater as should have been apparent by the size of those bowls. Still, I was as happy to have sampled both as I was to find a carryout container large enough to accommodate my leftovers. Because together, they formed the kind of epicurean dynamic duo that should be able to conquer almost anything—be it an unfamiliar diner, a hot August night, or even a difficult location.

Green Basil
43 E. Jefferson Ave.