Suck on our salty meatballs, A.A. Gill.

Cincinnati Bites
Buffalo Springfield Mac and Cheese from Keystone Bar and Grill

Posted Saturday, April 24, 2010

My throat was sore this week. The remedy? Why, hot and spicy broth, my friend. So off we went to investigate an oft-suggested Vietnamese restaurant in Clifton called Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro.

Visiting any restaurant in Clifton usually means an adventure in parking, but this time wasn't too bad. Cilantro is located at 2516 Clifton Avenue, near the corner of Clifton and McMillan. We saw a small parking lot on McMillan next to Thai Express, but the meters charged 25 cents for every 10 minutes parked and only took quarters. No thanks. Instead, we parked on Wheeler St. and walked to the restaurant.

Once we stepped inside, I immediately felt a pleasingly casual, college-like vibe --not surprising, given the location. There were several couples and groups in their twenties, with a few older folks and even a couple families peppered in for good measure. Bar stools ran along a 20-foot length of countertop parallel to four or five tables hugging the north wall. Additional bar stool seating abutted the front window.

We seated ourselves at a table and a waitress quickly took our drink orders. We retrieved our one-page, lamininated menus from their resting place, tucked between a bottle of Sriracha hot chili sauce and a squeeze bottle of Hoisin sauce.

My eyeballs nearly leapt from their sockets, cartoon-style, as I saw the prices. So cheap! $6.30 for a big bowl of Pho or a noodle bowl meal? A buck-seventy for any of the appetizers? Sold!

There were several soup bowls that piqued my interest. The traditional Vietnamese Pho is a tried and true staple I've experienced at a few other places, but I don't recall ever having either the Hu Tieu, a noodly, brothy dish with Cambodian and Chinese origins; or the Sate, a spicy broth and noodle soup that, like Pho, comes with a side of fresh bean sprouts, jalapenos, and slices of lime to mix in.

I chose the Sate with rice noodles. Chicken, shrimp, pork, tofu and rare slices of beef are available (the hot broth slowly cooks the beef), but the most intriguing option was the beef meatballs. I'd never heard of such a thing in a Vietnamese noodle soup, and though I assumed it was an Americanized twist, I had to try it.

My girlfriend picked the Vermicelli Noodle Bowl, otherwise known to the Vietnamese as "Bun." Thin, warm noodles are served over romaine lettuce, topped with bean sprouts, onions, cilantro, crushed peanuts and a choice of meat (in her case, chicken). A sweet, yellowish translucent sauce called Nuoc Man is served as a dressing.

tofu soft roll

Our dining experience started off with an appetizer of Goi Cuon Chay, a soft roll of tofu, vermicelli noodles and lettuce wrapped in rice paper and accompanied by a small container of a sweet dipping sauce. The rolls were a bit bland and we thought the sauce was a little too cloyingly sweet. While the sauce was topped with crushed peanuts, we thought it would have been better if it had instead been a true peanut sauce.

The unequivocal stars of the evening were our noodle and soup bowls, which were simply stellar. I enjoyed the spicy bite of the broth even as the stinging in the back of my throat left me coughing for more. The meatballs were not as I'd imagined: I had envisioned small, Chef Boyardee-style meatballs floating whole in my broth, but instead these were larger meatballs that had been cut into slices. I suppose that made more sense, given that the soup is eaten with a combination of a soup spoon for the broth and chopsticks for the rice noodles and bulkier ingredients.

vermicelli noodle bowl

My girlfriend enjoyed the fact that her Vermicelli Noodle bowl seemed light like a salad (even though it was more than filling as a meal) and that it wasn't spicy to start, but she was free to layer on her preferred level of spiciness using the available table-side accoutrements of chili sauce and Hoisin sauce.

Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro is a Clifton gem, offering tasty noodle and soup bowls at a fraction of the cost of other Asian restaurants. And that sore throat? Gone.

Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro on Urbanspoon
Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro

Price: Cheap (under $11 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars

Other Recent Reviews

  1. A Mediocre Lunch at Firehouse Grill
    -posted Sunday, October 8, 2017
  2. Southern Indian Impressions: Udupi Cafe
    -posted Saturday, September 23, 2017
  3. New Downtown Korean Restaurant: Haru
    -posted Tuesday, August 29, 2017
  4. Pleasant Ridge Impressions: Nine Giant Brewing
    -posted Monday, August 7, 2017
  5. Mediterranean Musings at Milya Cafe
    -posted Sunday, July 16, 2017
Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From TJ Jackson about Udupi Cafe:
    I do not know if it is truly a match for the product you remember, but Frostop Root Beer is sold at Jungle Jims and is a personal favorite of mine.
    posted: Fri., Sep 29th, 2017 @ 6:00 PM
  • From Jones about Haru Korean Restaurant:
    As a long time reader, I found this review to be one of your loveliest and most enthusiastically vivid. I can't wait to try this place!
    posted: Tue., Aug 29th, 2017 @ 9:48 AM
  • From Jordan about Grand Central Delicatessen:
    posted: Sat., Jun 3rd, 2017 @ 12:16 PM
  • From Tabitha about Tickle Pickle:
    Haha, love your comment: " If you were deemed "different" in high school, dressed "weird" or regularly got beat up only to go on to have a decidedly higher net worth and confidence level than the rest of your abusive, judgmental peers, Northside is your home away from home." I know I saw a Groupon for Tickle Pickle recently - might have to check if that's still available!
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:33 PM
  • From Tabitha about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    This is definitely going on the list. Thanks for posting. Do they also have margaritas?
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:23 PM
  • From holly may about Urban Grill on Main:
    This is Israeli couscous, the super tiny stuff is Moroccan. I personally prefer the Israeli (also known as "pearl".)
    posted: Fri., Mar 24th, 2017 @ 4:28 AM
  • From Sommer about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    We really love having Chilango so close to us in the Kings area!!! We have gone a few times and you are right - the Chicken Tinga is the best chicken taco you can get in Cincinnati!!! Thanks for reviewing this little neighborhood gem!
    posted: Tue., Mar 21st, 2017 @ 9:12 AM
  • From Tabitha about Lalo: they have margaritas?
    posted: Thu., Jan 12th, 2017 @ 12:32 PM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Swad Indian:
    @MJ: I heard family members of those who'd run Dusmesh now work out of the former Amol India in Clifton. It's called, Grill of India (
    posted: Thu., Dec 29th, 2016 @ 11:45 PM
  • From mj about Swad Indian:
    It seems Swad has changed hands. Have not see the former Dusmesh owners in my last visit (10/1/2016) and the food is just ok. Wonder where they went this time?
    posted: Wed., Dec 28th, 2016 @ 8:22 AM
Where The Locals Eat featured blog
Cincinnati Web Design | Cincinnati Mobile Web Design