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Many foodies run a mile from the phrase fast food. For most of us though, the pace and price of modern life means gazing up at an illuminated menu. Selections for the time pressed have been traditionally limited to chains and calories, but in the past few years several local businesses have cottoned to the gaping chasm in the market; stepping in with speedy cuisine that doesn't necessarily mean a trip to the cardiologist or a pact with a corporate devil.

Little Saigon in Salt Lake City's Sugar House district is one such entrant in this blossoming, independent fast-casual arena. For locals facing pressure on either their time or wallet, this new Vietnamese restaurant combines the flavors of Southeast Asia with the alacrity of Western convenience.

Little Saigon's small selection of appetizers is unlikely to set pulses racing; choices such as the cheese rangoon (deep-fried shells of cream cheese, $1.98) and fried egg rolls ($1.98) are no more complex than a reach from freezer to fryer. An order of four chicken wings ($4.98) was better but lacked a satisfying crisp finish. Egg rolls with pork ($3) were my favorite, and, true to fast food fashion, the least redeeming; ground pork wrapped in an egg roll wrapper and deep fried is neither classy nor clean cuisine but well, it's still deep fried pork.

My guess is that most patrons skip the appetizers and head directly to the main proceedings. The menu is broken down into various Vietnamese staples: sandwiches (banh mi), vermicelli noodle bowls (bun), noodle soup (pho), rice plates (com dia) and — from left field — tacos and burritos. Each of these choices features roughly the same subset of proteins, including grilled chicken, grilled steak, grilled shrimp, yellow curry chicken, barbecue pork back rib, soy chicken and tofu. Other preparations like garlic butter steak or lemongrass tofu also pop up randomly in certain dishes.

The menu can plod when it tries to translate items seen at more traditional full-service restaurants. A com dia plate of spicy grilled shrimp ($8.98, with rice, tomatoes, cucumber, pickled vegetables and lettuce) was acceptable but lacked spark. Similarly, I've eaten better noodle bowls (here they come replete with pickled carrots and daikon, lettuce, bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, crispy shallots and peanuts and house fish sauce) at competing sit-down eateries around the valley.

Little Saigon works most successfully with dishes that parallel the fast-food world, items that offer a grab-and-dash experience. This is exemplified best by the banh mi sandwiches, French influenced Vietnamese sandwiches that are nothing less than excellent. A yellow curry chicken ($5.98) banh mi had just the right hit of sweetness. Tofu lemongrass ($4.98) will have vegetarians swooning with rewarding woodsy brightness. Meat eaters, too, will be utterly entranced with a rich garlic butter steak ($5.98) option. The house special ($5.28, jambon ham, house pork roll, pate) is the most daring of the seven options, but worth exploration if you're the adventuresome type.

Whatever sandwich you choose, all come served on a fabulous French baguette that possesses that magical mix of perfectly crisp exterior and yielding, comforting interior. These are soul-satisfying sandwiches, the likes of which nary a traditional fast-food business comes close to matching.

Of the Mexican-inspired options, I'd personally skip the taco selections and head right to the burritos. Built with rice, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, avocado, cilantro and (again) a choice of protein, they provide a substantial purchase. The grilled chicken ($7.98) and grilled beef ($7.98) options I sampled both represented solid selections but, given the staff's affable nature, I did wonder if they'd put one together for me with some of that luscious garlic butter steak or creamy yellow curry chicken — for a real fusion experience. My bet is they would.

Stacked up against traditional fast-food options, Little Saigon offers a genuine alternative to the carbon copy corporate businesses that dominate. I blinked in disbelief at my final receipts more than once, in the best way of course. Crucially, unlike much fast food, the grub here left me neither groggy nor glum an hour down the line.

Stuart Melling also writes at and — he can be found on Twitter @gastronomicslc —


Little Saigon

Food • HH

Mood • HH

Service • HH

Noise • bb

Vietnamese cuisine with a fast food flair served in the heart of Sugar House.

Location • 2021 Windsor St., Salt Lake City; 801-906-8630

Online •

Hours • Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Children's menu • No

Prices • $

Liquor • No

Reservations • No

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • Yes

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • Yes