First Look: New Vietnamese Restaurant, Ripple of Smiles, Opens on Wai‘alae Avenue
Up for a challenge? Walk out of this sweet southern Vietnamese restaurant without a massive smile on your face.
I won’t lie, the name is what brought me here initially. I was fully prepared for bad food with a side of creepy service. But when I discovered that Ripple of Smiles is simply a Vietnamese restaurant with an interesting name, I volunteered myself as tribute to try the spot opening that very day. Having visited a number Vietnam’s cities and countryside towns, shared many meals and cheap beers with the locals and had the blessing of a one-on-one cooking lesson with a retired chef in her family home, I knew I was in for a treat with probably the nicest service to match delicious dishes. Plus, I need pho in my life on a weekly basis.
Pulling up to a small corner strip mall on Wai‘alae Avenue, we were greeted by a sweet teal-green restaurant with a dainty white-trimmed fence that separates the spacious outdoor dining area from the busy sidewalk. Along with round garden tables and chairs is an icy cold display fridge filled with nonalcoholic drinks—a common feature at street side eateries in Vietnam. And on that note, I’m not new to pulling up a wobbly four-legged stool (or flipping a crate for glass bottles upside down) to a collapsible round table outside of a busy Vietnamese diner—so safe to say that I know which handful of dishes would be best to test the authenticity of any pho spot.
The young owner, Frank, informed of us of how he arrived just five months ago from the southern city of Ho Chi Minh City (or as he still proudly calls it, Saigon). We briefly talked about our shared love for his home city and how I should have ordered way more food from the three-page menu to test his chef, who hails from the Mekong Delta. Next time, Frank. Let’s start with the basics.
Between the two of us at the table, the combination pho ($12) was a perfect shareable item. While I enjoyed the beef balls and brisket, my fellow diner launched straight into the tendon and rare steak. I personally don’t add too much to the bowl if I’m a fan of the broth, and let’s just say the plate of additional fresh garnishes went untouched. All four varieties of beef that came in our pho were tender and just the right temperature. The rice noodles were light, bouncy and slurped up pretty quickly.
Fried chicken wings ($10) from Vietnam are a big deal back in Asia and this sticky, sweet selection, with a hint of spice, did not disappoint. While I would not go so far as calling their version the traditional kind of battered and deep-fried wings often enjoyed street-side with a cold bottle of Bia Saigon (a local brew I tried to convince Frank to offer at his restaurant), these juicy and flavorful bad boys will have me coming back.
The massive plate of gorgeously garlicky stir-fried water spinach ($8)—known in Asia as morning glory—is a staple for every Vietnamese meal I order. And, man, did Ripple of Smiles deliver. If you come with a hot date, definitely encourage them to share this with you (so you share the garlic breath) or bring a bucket of potent gum because Frank is all about sharing the garlic.
Typically I would not even mention a simple and refreshing fresh lime soda ($5) but Ripple of Smiles served the famous Vietnamese beverage of choice with sliced lemons. Yes, the fresh lime soda was garnished with lemon and while it’s not a deal breaker, and was still delicious, it is rather odd.
We’ll be back. We’ll be taking Frank’s advice and ordering the house specialty of caramelized pork with rice (thit kho to), fresh spring rolls and all of the other classic southern Vietnamese dishes Ripples of Smiles has brought to the island. We’ll also be taking advantage of the BYOB status. Look for us in the outside dining area under the fairy lights.
Ripple of Smiles, open daily 10 a.m.– 9:30 p.m., 3040 Waialae Ave., (808) 354-2572, @the_ripple_of_smiles