Dining out: Bamboo Hut a treat even without meat

Asian -inspired menu includes chicken, vegetarian choices

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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Why: Tucked into a storefront next to the Salmon Creek Fred Meyer, Bamboo Hut offers healthy Asian-inspired food that’s easy for diners to customize. Sauces come on the side, so you can choose whether to drench your chicken in teriyaki sauce or take it light.

Though chicken, salmon and prawns play center stage in more than half the entrees, Bamboo Hut also has a robust vegetarian menu that makes abundant use of tofu and soy chicken. It’s one of the few places around where vegetarians can order pho, a hearty Vietnamese stew usually made with beef broth.

Atmosphere: Families, business people and solo diners all converge on the Bamboo Hut during the week.

Big windows let in lots of light during the day and green bamboo and other plants line the walls. A thatched roof over the kitchen and another outside the restrooms put the “hut” in the Bamboo Hut’s name. Face your dining companions at tables or watch the cooks work at counter seats.

What I tried: I had the Vegetarian Pho and Lemon Grass Vegan Soy Chicken over Rice Stick Noodles. My dining companion ordered the Teriyaki Chicken over Brown Rice with a side of veggies. We shared an order of Saigon Rolls.

Saigon Rolls are double the size of a typical egg roll, and contain carrots, cabbage, peanuts and fresh basil in a translucent wrap. They’re served with a peanut-based dip. The dip and fresh basil in the wrap complemented each other perfectly. The rolls were so filling that we set two aside for later. Even after sitting in the fridge for three days, they were still good.

The pho was served in a huge bowl, Vietnamese style, with basil, bean sprouts and a spicy red paste on the side allowing diners to customize their meals. Loaded with rice noodles, grilled tofu, soy chicken and onions, this is a hearty soup even without the meat. The pinkish broth was smooth and earthy — I’d guess that Bamboo Hut uses mushrooms to get the complexity that beef broth usually provides, though none were present in the soup itself.

I enjoyed the Lemon Grass Vegan Soy Chicken, which included tofu in addition to the fake meat, served with fresh carrots, some onions and a few sprigs of cilantro on top of cabbage and rice noodles. Its sauce, served on the side, was tangy with a slight red-hot pepper kick. I enjoyed the innate flavor that the grill brought out in the “chicken,” tofu and veggies so much that I skimped on the sauce until I burrowed down into the noodles, when I poured it on.

Though I thought the soy-based chicken was a good imitation, my dining companion said it was too tofu-like for his taste.

He was satisfied with the Teriyaki Chicken made from a real bird, however. The chicken was perfectly cooked, lightly charred on the grill and flavorful even without the on-the-side teriyaki sauce — though the sauce itself was tasty as well, the epitome of teriyaki. The dish was served with lightly cooked carrots and broccoli on a bed of brown rice.

Entrees are slightly smaller than some U.S. restaurants serve, though still plenty of food for most of us. A main dish would be too much for me to eat in one sitting, just right for my dining companion, but might be smaller than people with above-average appetites long for.

Highlights beyond what I tried: The menu also includes Chicken Pho with real meat, vegetarian and meat-based specials, several soups and salads and a couple of wraps. Though chicken and soy are the primary proteins on offer, there are a few seafood options as well.

Beverage options include standard fountain drinks, some imported Mexican soft drinks in glass bottles, wine and an array of domestic and imported beers.

Other observations: I liked my first meal enough that I went back later for takeout. I was asked how long it would be before I sat down to eat, and directed to dishes that store especially well. It was a nice, thoughtful touch.

Cost: Most entrees are $7-$10, with some vegetarian options going for as little as $4. Appetizers are $4.50 to $7.25, and drinks start at $1.75.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: 800 N.E. Tenney Road, Suite 104, Vancouver.

Information: 360-574-1351.

Health score: Bamboo Hut received a health score of five on May 4. Zero is a perfect score. Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For more information, call 360-397-8428.