15 July 2012

Mankato: Pho Saigon

Mankato is a blighted wasteland for vegans.  An hour south of Minneapolis, it's the kind of city that values drinking and McDonald's more than healthy eating and exercise.  The college crowd is spreading the vibe, though.  Bless their hearts.  Becca and I made the drive to see one such drop of sunshine: Cousin M!

We chose Vietnamese because - silly me - I recommended it.  I've only ever had GOOD Vietnamese, being a city person.  I should have known.  The place looked more like an expensive dentist's waiting room with a bar and tables than a Vietnamese joint.

Pho Saigon
1511 Madison Ave
Mankato, MN 56001
(507) 625-2300

When our server came I made it clear that all three of us were eating vegetarian in order to avoid that nasty fish sauce problem.  She pointed out which sauces and dishes were made with fish or oyster, and we had an easy time ordering.  Everything looked good and there were tons of items with a tofu and mock duck option.  The only problem was deciding who got to order the pineapple one.

We started with the Spring Rolls at $5.85 - totes vegan, if you choose fried tofu.  It had a smoky flavor, and the rolls were packed with fresh, crunchy veggies.  The peanut dipping sauce was interesting.*  It wasn't bad, per se - it had a good peanut taste - but it was thick and sweet, almost like it was full of corn syrup.  The entire experience was pretty good, but not groundbreaking.

M enjoyed her vermicelli for 8 bucks.  It came with rice noodles, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, green onions, peanuts and tofu.  Because the original sauce had fish in it, M got the Mongolian sauce on the suggestion of our helpful server.  The dish tasted like mediocre Chinese to me, a little smoky, and involved a lot of chewing.

Becca nabbed the Hawaiian with mock duck for $8.75.  Despite its name and Hawaii's distance from Vietnam, it tasted also tasted vaguely Chinese, and included squishy broccoli, bland onions (when I say bland, I mean utterly devoid of all flavor), sweet and sour sauce-saturated mock duck, and the saving grace: pineapple.  Becca couldn't have gotten through the whole thing without the pineapple.

My curry with mock duck hit me at $8.75 with carrots, onions that once again tasted like nothing, and peanuts, slathered in a yellow Indian-style curry sauce with a very strong coconut milk flavor and no spice heat whatsoever.  I ate about a fourth of it before I could no longer stomach the bland chunks with bland sauce.  If I'd kept going it would've turned into another kind of chunks.

YES, I know people are starving.  YES, I know people who live in 'Kato probably think they prefer this to actual Vietnamese food.  YES, first world problems.  Yet my food snobbery persists.

On the plus side, at least nobody accidentally ingested fish.

Then we snuck animal crackers and frosting in a can into Rock of Ages.  It's a combo that's almost always vegan - check the ingredients!  It's a little weird that frosting can be vegan, and it's definitely full of chemicals, but sometimes you gotta take what you can get.  That was good.  Mankato redeems itself.

Kind of.

* Interesting (def.); the Minnesotan way of saying, "I hated it."


  1. Welcome to Mankato. I'm so not a fan of this place and now you can see part of the reason why. This place is a trap consisting on college kids, hicks with loud vehicles (if you can actually call them vehicles) and chain restaurants.

    The only semi-entertaining thing about this town is the carousel in the food court of the mall.

    I miss the Cities.

  2. Oh, god, girl! Come back!

  3. Ouch. I've lived in Mankato for 5 years and in the area most of my life. At face value Mankato does seem to be lacking (kindly put), but I have been a vegetarian for almost 5 years and recently vegan for the past two months. You have to know where to look! First of all, living a healthy, non-animal based diet in a meat-centric country means that you will not always have the best of options in most places (save for large cities or destinations committed to a healthy lifestyle). But if you choose to eat out in Mankato again and would like some vegan options here are a few I can suggest: The Coffee Hag on Riverfront Drive typically has vegan options on their ever-changing, delicious menu - as well as local! Neighbor's Italian Bistro tucked away at the end of South Riverfront Drive is delicious and has vegan options. Neighbors has always been accommodating towards myself and guests when we make a point to mention we're vegan. Mexican is easily made vegan and our best restaurant (IMO) is La Terraza located on Madison Avenue. I would also have to disagree with you on Pho Saigon, but we have different palates having lived in different areas of the state. More often than not my partner and I eat at home -- as a vegan (striving for little to no processed foods) I believe the best restaurant is your own kitchen! :)