Noodle Tuesday: vegan pho at Nickie Cafe

Vegetable and tofu noodle soup

Full of fresh vegetables and herbs, light yet flavorful, more Vietnamese restaurants should be havens for vegans and vegetarians.

Except they're not. In a cuisine where fish sauce is a staple like shoyu, Vietnamese vegetarian options around town can be bland and watery.

Enter Nickie Cafe, a tiny five-table eatery just off Kapahulu. Here, a quarter of the menu is vegetarian-friendly and still bright and savory. A vegetable and tofu noodle soup ($9) comes loaded with broccoli, carrots, cabbage and potato over pho noodles, with bits of crispy fried shallots on top. Like beef pho, the bowl is accompanied by a tray of condiments (the chili sauce is a winner) and plate of sawtooth coriander, Thai basil, bean sprouts and lemon wedges. Throw it all in.

"Duck" and bamboo soup

Nickie also offers a vegetarian version of bun mang vit chay ($10), duck and bamboo soup, the meat replaced with "mock duck," which gives a pretty good imitation of the real thing, though its sponginess gives it away. But dried bamboo, shredded ong choy stems and a ginger-lime-chile sauce definitely make this vermicelli rice noodle soup slurp-worthy.

Nickie Cafe, 3297 Campbell Ave., 734-6180