Find a back issue

First Look at Mot Hai Ba’s Lunch Menu

IMG_1897
Mot Hai Ba (iPhone photos by Matthew Shelley)

Mot Hai Ba (or “My Hot Butt” as The Cheap Bastard likes to call it) opened last Tuesday in East Dallas, and despite my opinions about its name, I was pretty eager to try it out. Everything the Good 2 Go Taco girls, Colleen O’Hare and Jeana Johnson come up with, I love. They’ve got this easy breezy style that makes opening new restaurants look like a cinch. I don’t know how they do it, but they manage to come up with ideas that the Dallas dining scene needs, and then they execute their plan almost flawlessly. I wish I could say the same about Congress.

Chargrilled pork belly and pork meatball with vermicelli, plus imperial roll
Chargrilled pork belly and pork meatball with vermicelli, plus imperial roll
The beef pho for $12
The beef pho for $12

Mot Hai Ba is located inside this charming white-and-yellow brick building missing an exterior sign that says, “HEY! Eat here! There’s Vietnamese street food inside.” Or maybe there was one, and I’m just blind. Or, most likely, the sign hasn’t arrived yet. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter.

The interior is pretty dang awesome, and anyone who disagrees with me can go somewhere else to eat. I think the waiter told us there was Thai chili in the hot sauce as he placed it on our table, but my memory sucks, so I can’t say for sure. All I know is that I wanted to stick my whole hand in that hot sauce and lick it. It’s definitely not a dumbed-down version for wimps who cry over one jalapeño. The tables are kinda short, which makes short people like me feel great. But when I asked Matt Shelley, lunch partner and iPhone photo taker, if his daddy long legs felt okay, he said yes. The seating was comfortable for him, and he’s 6’1”. In fact, Matt couldn’t stop praising the sweet barrel-like seats and coconut tree chopsticks. (People are going to steal those, I just know it.) It might have had something to do with Jeana praising his Dowdy shirt and giving him a high five when we first walked in. She knows how to make people happy.

The pork banh mi
The pork banh mi
Interior (left); bamboo toothpicks (right)
Interior (left); bamboo toothpicks (right)

The lunch menu is limited to seven options, but I like that. Menus that read like the Bible make me want to whip out my yellow belt skills and karate chop someone. Matt had the chargrilled pork belly, pork meat ball, imperial roll, and vermicelli option for $9. His dish was head-banging awesome. I don’t think he spoke to me for a good five minutes because his mouth was full the entire time. Judy, our Vietnamese lunch buddy, wasn’t a huge fan of the imperial roll because it wasn’t traditional, she said. Usually, there’s more meat than vermicelli in the roll, but this one was entirely opposite. I have no idea what’s traditional or not, so I was quite happy with it. The skin was thin and crackly.

Judy had other things to say about the grilled pork banh mi she ordered, though. The banh mi was puffy and perfect, while the pork remained juicy in the middle, while crunchy and charred along the edges. All of us couldn’t get enough of it.

The only issue I had with the entire meal was my beef pho, which came with cilantro, Vietnamese basil, and beef slices. No bean sprouts. Twelve dollars for a bowl of really bland pho is sad. I always finish my food. I don’t think I’ve ever not finished a bowl of pho. I tried my best, but I only made it halfway through the bowl before I started scooping out the noodles and pouring Matt’s chargrilled pork belly sauce over them to give it some flavor. The lemony, fish sauce was so tangy and sweet and delicious at the same time, I could’ve just drank that stuff straight up. But I’m a lady. Sort of.

It’d be great to see more pho options on the menu besides beef, chicken, and vegetable. I have a serious soft spot for tendon and tripe.

[Update: This is what Jeana has to say in response. "Bowls and bowls and bowls of pho in Hanoi. Never saw a bean sprout or a bottle of hoisin. MHB is a "not changed for what people expect because they eat southern style pho in Dallas" Northern Vietnamese restaurant. Although I understand that people have gotten very used to rock sugar and Christmas pie spice overwhelming the broth that has been simmering for days leaving no real taste of the protein that started the whole thing, a simple recipe search for Hanoian pho would indicate that Northerners prefer to let the meat flavor be the star.

Squat down on a Hanoi sidewalk and have a bowl or 10, come back to Dallas and then compare."]

17 comments on “First Look at Mot Hai Ba’s Lunch Menu

  1. $12.00 for a bowl of bland Pho? The best Pho in town is $8.00 or less!
    However, the Banh Mi and chargrilled pork belly with pork meatball and vermicelli sound (and look) delicious!

  2. Had the flank steak, served with plain white rice. I grew up eating rice every day (Louisiana mother) but we never ate it by itself; something was always served on top, to add juice: (red beans, turnip greens), and when I said that I poured the juice from my salad over the frankly plain, dry rice, Jeana, who was standing close by and heard me say it, looked like she was not happy with the comment that the rice could have used something to make it – flavorful?

  3. MHB is a “not changed for what people expect because they eat southern style pho in Dallas” Northern Vietnamese restaurant.

    Jeana, who was standing close by and heard me say it, looked like she was not happy…

    My many, many bowls of pho in Hanoi, Hue and Hoi An almost always featured a deep rich flavor that
    came from long, slow heating of complex, multi-layered ingredients. Even the clearest broths were tasty
    enough to eat as is. Beef bones, fish sauce, sugar, vinegar, root vegetables, spices will head you in the general direction but every one was different. Most were like sourdough starter, yesterday’s becomes part of today’s.

    Let’s hope they can still pay the rent, after they scare off all the riff raff.

  4. I don’t consider myself riff raff. Plain, dry white rice can be improved upon.

  5. My dad came from Hanoi and I used to eat pho there on a weekly basis. He and I are very old-school with our Vietnamese food. It does not taste bland like that at all. MHB’s needs a bit more flavor, and it was also missing some of the key vegetables that make pho authentic (ngo gai- culantro, hanh tran nuoc beo, rau om).

    How long do you cook your pho? You’re supposed to simmer the beef bone for 24 hours for flavor.

  6. I was upset. Absolutely. But not with you, Beda. Making rice is an art form that I hoped we had perfected. I was absolutely upset that your rice came out to the table not perfect. We are striving to make everything as technically perfect as possible and I hope the next time you come in you get a product worthy of that hard work. -Jeana

  7. Jeana, I didn’t mean that it wasn’t perfectly cooked, but it’s hard to make plain rice taste good; I love rice, but not by itself. It tastes great when you pour bean juice or roast gravy over it. I felt horrible when I saw your expression. The rice tasted good (had flavor) when I poured the dressing from my salad over it. I can say without exaggeration that my mother cooked rice every day, no matter what other starches we had. We just never ate it dry.

  8. I’m very very used to the countless bowls of “Christmas pie spice” that I’ve drowned myself in, bobbing headfirst for meatballs and hoisin-coated bean sprouts. Sure this is authentic, and I bet a Vietnamese northerner will someday shake your hand in such a gracious fury that their hand imprint will inspire a new dish, but you’ll get one try from me. I’ll give authenticity a shot, but as a creature of habit who already has his tastes aligned, it’s an uphill battle to win me over.

  9. I’ll vouch for most asian cultures enjoying plain rice very much. It’s all about the texture, bounciness, stickiness. Sometimes I make little balls of rice with just a little salt and eat it plain like that. So, Beda, it could just be a matter of taste/experience, as I also grew up eating rice every day. Excited to give this place a try as I’ve not experienced a lot of northern Vietnamese food yet.

  10. Going to Hanoi and coming back is like saying you’re going to North Korea to learn how to cook and coming back.

    The Vietnamese community in Dallas is mostly made up of first and second generation refugee immigrants that escaped to the U.S from SOUTH Vietnam. It’s almost a slap in the face to declare you want to follow authentic northen traditions.

  11. Beda, Let it be known that I do not consider you “riff raff” by any means!

  12. “Bean sprout or a bottle of hoisin” aside she still said “Twelve dollars for a bowl of really bland pho is sad.” And she didn’t even finish it. It doesn’t matter if it’s traditional or not if people can buy good Pho for $8 (ie Mai’s a hop-skip-and-a-jump-away) in Dallas they will and they won’t buy it for $12. It’s just Pho. Don’t try to make it fancy. No worries, not everyone can make Pho broth.

  13. Pingback: First Look at Mot Hai Ba's Lunch Menu | Healthy Lunch IdeasHealthy Lunch Ideas