When I lived in Vietnam, I preferred to leave for work by 7:00 in the morning in order to miss the worst of the traffic. I would arrive at my school by 7:30, usually around the time a few of my co-workers arrived. If I had a lot of work to do, I would stop by a street vendor to buy bánh mì trứng, an egg sandwich, for breakfast. On the days when I had more time before school, I went to a restaurant next door with co-workers for phở bò (beef pho) and cà phê sữa đá (iced milk coffee).
I know what you’re thinking: Hot soup for breakfast in a hot country? Ew. It took a while for me to wrap my mind around it but, one day during the winter when I felt cold, humid and moldy like my house, I tried it. There was no turning back. Phở warms you from the inside; the beef provides enough protein to last until morning tea, when you share fruit with colleagues. If you’re ever fortunate enough to be in Vietnam, eat phở for breakfast. The Vietnamese do.
Anyway, what does this have to do with Rockford? Well, yesterday I found Hoang Dinh Cafe, a restaurant run by a Vietnamese family. The waiter I talked to said his father came from the south (Saigon area) and his mother was from central Vietnam (near Nha Trang, a beach resort town). His boss, he said, is out of the country for three-fourths of the year. She imports the coffee from Vietnam, which most Vietnamese restaurants in America don’t do. Most just mix sweetened condensed milk with American coffee, which lacks the strength, smoothness and complexity of Vietnamese coffee.
If you’re in Rockford, looking for a cheap place to eat, try Hoang Dinh Cafe. Order the rare beef phở (don’t worry, the broth cooks the beef) and an iced milk coffee. I’ll be heading back to the restaurant in the very near future.
Hoang Dinh Cafe
5811 Forest Hills Rd
Rockford, IL 61114
Read the Rockford Register Star’s review here.