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The perfect spring roll: Find it at Saigon 2 in Rio Rancho, and pho and noodle bowls, too

Saigon 2 owner Vicky Truong holds a plate of Tamarind Jumbo Prawns at her Rio Rancho restaurant. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Saigon 2 owner Vicky Truong holds a plate of Tamarind Jumbo Prawns at her Rio Rancho restaurant. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The egg roll: a cylinder of cabbage and meat wrapped up in dough and deep-fried. Sometimes a menu might say, “spring roll,” but they’re all the same at Asian restaurants, and barely passable at best, right? Not so fast – at least not when it comes to a proper Vietnamese spring roll, wrapped in rice paper rather than wonton skin.

You’ll find none better than at Saigon 2 Vietnamese Restaurant in Rio Rancho. The original Saigon (still open on San Mateo) under owner Vicky Truong’s direction was already a contender for the best in the city.

The second location in 2011 means no long drives from anywhere in town for crackling hot spring rolls that will leave you grinning and iced coffee that will get your heart racing.

After ordering those Egg Rolls ($7.75 for six), try one as-is to appreciate the texture and flavor. Then, wrap the next roll up in the included cilantro and lettuce, making an amazing combination of cool and hot, herbal and vegetal. You might never eat spring rolls “plain” again.

Other notable appetizers include a pair of Roasted Quail ($7.75), a heavily seasoned feast of dark meat in yin-yang balance between hearty and delicate, or Tamarind Mussels ($9.75), sweet-tart sauce flanked by grilled white onions.

With can’t-miss appetizers already filling up one’s belly, it’s easy to see that Saigon 2 is a good place to take a crowd, ordering willy-nilly and enjoying the spoils that will spread across the table. Everyone can enjoy a few sips of any of the five kinds of beef Pho ($7.95), whether augmented by meatballs or rare beef or tendon, or all three.

For the apex of rice noodle perfection, however, there must be Bun. Bun is the term for rice noodles, typically steamed and served “naked” in a bowl with various toppings. It’s a cool rice bowl in noodle form, but oh so much more.

The best topping is No. 29, Grilled Onion Beef ($7.95). Thin strips of beef are wrapped around tender onions, everything cooked together until meltingly tender. The noodle bowl is topped with fresh herbs and chopped peanuts; all you need to do is chop and mix it together with the sauce of your choice and dig in.

Honestly, months could be spent on this delight of a menu, finding your favorites and enjoying even those that don’t make the top tier. Special Rice Plate No. 79 ($8.95) is a plainly-named foodie find with lemongrass chicken, fried prawns, and an astonishingly simple fried rice that completes the plate.

Fish dishes abound, like the fancy whole Steamed Bass with Black Bean Sauce ($19.95). Take your time to savor each morsel from top to bottom.

Great food pairs well with Vietnamese Iced Coffee ($2.95), or a tart Fresh Lemonade ($2.95). What goes with everything, however, is Vicky’s charisma and insistence on calling everyone who steps through her doors “honey.” Vicky, you’re the sweetest. Keep at it.