The treasures of Vietnamese hotspot Huong Tra are no secret to the restaurant and deli’s large population of regulars. Couples, families, and friends can be seen gathering at Huong Tra over Vietnamese staples like Pho soup, spring rolls, and Rice Vermicelli, along with contemporary offerings like Taro Pearl, a creamy, purple bubble tea-like beverage which tastes like a sugar cookie.
An umber terra cotta-shingled roof and simple red sign out front make up the modest exterior of Huong Tra, and the inside continues the trend of minimalism. Strewn about the floor of the restaurant are nearly a dozen square tables covered by red tablecloths and a topped with plain sheets of glass which bare marks from the countless diners over the course of the restaurant’s tenure.
Enjoying a meal at Huong Tra on a packed weekday night, it’s easy to understand how these tables could get some ware and tare. It all comes down to the flavorful -- and often colorful -- food. Even if patrons don't see it at first, the food of Huong Tra presents itself to guests immediately upon their arrival. A savory, sweet, and nutty smell fills the entire restaurant, drawing in patrons from the street. Upon investigation, the root of this fragrance can be tied back to the diverse Vietnamese dishes spread throughout the tables.
The spring rolls, which include a subtle yet impacting bit of mint, are filled with fresh shrimp and crunchy lettuce, and feature a signature of Huong Tra: a homemade sauce. The peanut sauce accompanying the appetizer holds a nice punch of spice and completes the dish. One of the most popular main courses, Com Ca Tim Xao, which is a dish of sautéed eggplant over rice, comes with a similarly delectable peanut sauce -- this time offering some crunch. A hearty bite of the dish, featuring the eggplant, rice, and sauce, is something to take time savoring. The eggplant melts upon the first bite, and then the rice and peanut come to the forefront, making this a dish that will leave a belly full and a palate exercised.
Huong Tra has served Richmond for over 20 years, yet the restaurant and deli's ownership remain elusive. The waitstaff will confirm that they are, indeed, from Vietnam, which is no surprise given how delicious and flavorful the food is. To solve the mystery of Huong Tra's management, one may just need to become a regular at the restaurant. Fortunately, Huong Tra's menu is so expansive that it will be hard not to come back.
12221 San Pablo Ave
Tel. (510) 234-7428
Mon - Sat 10:00 am. to 8:45 pm.