The Rice Plate with Grilled Meatballs and Egg Roll at iPho by Saigon

James Norton / Heavy Table

We may have stumbled upon the best lunch. What is the best lunch? The best lunch is filling, yes, but not greasy or overwhelming. It arrives at the table almost instantly, but it’s made with care. It’s inexpensive but has many components to offer up a full field of flavor and texture. The best lunch may well be the Rice Plate with Grilled Meatballs and Egg Roll ($8.50) at iPho by Saigon on University Avenue.

We first encountered iPho during our Green Line Checklist of 70+ restaurants on University Avenue and the Green Line. It had a deservedly glowing reputation that preceded it. The food was full of flavor and nuance, the atmosphere spartan but friendly, and the service so fast as to defy belief.

WACSO / Heavy Table

Summer is a wonderful time of year for Vietnamese food (followed by autumn, winter, spring), so we’ve been surfing the iPho menu looking for a bulletproof choice among many strong contenders. The winner may be E10, the aforementioned rice plate.

The beauty of this plate is how incredibly responsive it is to the diner’s preferences — bite by bite. You’ve got the quiet neutrality of the rice, the sweet and/or heat and/or tart from accompanying sauces like hoisin and sriracha, the crispy lightness of shredded jicama and carrot, the meaty substance of the meatballs, and the crispy crunchy earthiness of the egg roll. By toggling starch, vegetable, meat, and sauce, you can lean into virtually any flavor and texture combination you feel like: the crispy spicy heat of an eggroll with sriracha, for example, or the cool, soft brightness of a tomato slice and rice. And regardless of what you do, don’t skip the nuoc cham.

Then again, the best lunch might be pho. That’s also a fine answer.

iPho by Saigon, 704 University Ave W, St. Paul, 651.225.8751

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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