Missing Pho My Lan? Rice Paper Will Satisfy Your Cravings for Pho and More
This Vietnamese restaurant offers everything from pho to durian shakes to bone marrow.
Photos: Michael Keany
If you’re a pho fanatic, you’ll probably recall the old Pho My Lan, which served up hearty bowls of the soup for a decade on Maunakea Street. Its owners wanted to sell the place, but, early in 2016, daughter Quynh Mar Chong and her husband Daniel volunteered to take the restaurant over.
It’s now called Rice Paper and the two owners have thrown a few new twists into what’s still essentially a French-Vietnamese joint with a menu anchored by pho, banh mi, and rice and vermicelli plates. For one, we’ve been eating pho for years, and this is the first place where we’ve been presented with a huge beef bone, filled with decadent bone marrow ready to be picked out and savored, at no extra cost.
More on that later. We grabbed lunch at Rice Paper recently—pulling up at one of the cool table/bench setups that are now available—and here’s what we tried.
Summer Over Spring Rolls ($10.99).
If, like us, you can never decide between fresh, tender summer rolls and crunchy, dense spring rolls, just get both, with the Summer Over Spring Rolls (Gỏi Cuốn Chả Giò). Rice Paper wraps up a spring roll into a larger summer roll. Dipped into a rich peanut sauce, it’s the best of both worlds.
The measure of any Vietnamese spot is the pho, and Rice Paper’s holds its own. You can order it with two choices of the usual array of meats (rare beef, brisket, tendon and more) for $9.99 or get as many as four choices for a dollar more. The broth is flavorful and rich on its own, but we loaded it up with Sriracha and chili paste for the full spicy experience. (Vegetarians—there’s no vegetarian broth option.)
Crab Meat Soup ($11.99).
The soup that really impressed us, though, was the Crab Meat Soup (Bún Riêu), which for $11.99, comes loaded with large balls of crab meat, congealed pork blood, pigs’ feet, fried slices of tofu, tomato and vermicelli noodles, all in an umami-packed broth that’s overflowing with crab flavor. My dining mate dubbed the whole thing “iron-rich” and “delicious.” If your normal order is “pho, steak on the side,” this is a great reason to try something new.
And, if banh mi sandwiches are more your speed, Rice Paper offers a full complement, which the restaurant will even load up with avocado for an additional hit of creaminess. We tried the barbecue chicken, which was properly full of grilled flavor and pickle-y goodness, tucked into a French baguette that was both crusty and pillowy soft. Shrimp chips on the side added a nice touch.
Barbecue chicken banh mi with Avocado ($10.99).
We didn’t try the desserts, but we may as well have, thanks to the beverage menu, which has all kinds of interesting options beyond the ever-popular Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.
The durian shake came to the table topped with an Instagram-worthy dollop of whipped cream, and, in case you’ve heard stories of the infamous durian smell, not to worry, this shake was nothing but fruity, creamy and tasty.
Freshly Squeezed Lemonade and the durian shake ($4.99 each).
For lemonade, you’ve got your choice of a freshly squeezed version, which is bright and sweet and refreshing, and the “salted lemon with ice,” which tastes like a liquid version of the preserved lemon you find in jars at a crack seed shop. It’s delicious, but also so dense with sugar and salt you have to alternate with palate-cleansing sips of ice water—we’ve only ever been able to get part-way through one mug of the stuff. (Speaking of drinks: If you like your pho with a little BYOB action, Maunakea Liquor & Grocery is directly across the street, making a beverage run a cinch.)
Oh, and the bone marrow? Your best bet is to show up at Rice Paper on a Friday. The beef bones often appear at 7 p.m., so get there by 6:30 to ensure your spot.
1160 Maunakea St. 528-3663, ricepaperhawaii.com.
Read more about other Chinatown restaurants in the February issue of HONOLULU Magazine, on newsstands now, or click here for the digital edition. You can also purchase the issue at shop.honolulumagazine.com.
READ MORE STORIES BY MICHAEL KEANY