I slurped through my huge bowl of pho, savory broth splattered on my scarf and blazer, Sriracha working its magic on my sinuses.
A Vietnamese version of what sounded like the '80s band Wham! blasted in the background.
On the table sat a jumble of bottles — ketchup, fish sauce, maple syrup, hoisin — and a container stuffed with silver forks and neon green chopsticks.
Bathed in the bluish-white light of gas station spotlights, we watched SUVs troll in and out of the parking lot of the Kicks 66 gas station on the corner of 168th and Harrison Streets, adjacent to the booth where we sat.
Welcome to Omelet & Viet Cuisine, my new favorite west Omaha hidden gem.
The location is as random as it sounds. So is the menu, a mashup of American egg omelets and Vietnamese specialties. But almost everything we tried — pho and another noodle soup, bun bo hue; egg rolls and spring rolls; a bahn mi sandwich; and even an ultimate spicy omelet served with a warm biscuit — was worth a return visit. Forget what you might think when you drive past this gas station hole-in-the-wall, it's one of the best Vietnamese joints you'll find in town.
A bowl of combination pho stands among the best I've tried, including at Saigon Restaurant and New Gold Mountain during the pho Food Prowl.
The large bowl came stuffed with thin vermicelli noodles, pieces of tender shaved beef, big chunks of transparent tendon and tripe, and slices of chewy beef meatball. A healthy grind of pepper floated on top, as did bright green scallion and sliced white onion. I seasoned mine with a big squirt of Sriracha, thick cut jalapeņos, torn bits of both Thai and regular basil, and lime wedges. All of the seasonings but the sauce came on an adjacent plate along with a pile of fresh bean sprouts.
The gently flavored broth had a pleasant, warming depth, and the chewy meatballs and tender beef had just the right texture and flavor. My only nit: The pieces of chewy tendon and tripe could have been a touch smaller.
Another Vietnamese noodle soup, bun bo hue, looked similar to the pho but tasted nothing like it. The base, a much spicier broth with a reddish hue, was filled with thin lemongrass and red onion, which provided some kick, along with pale sliced meatballs, chunks of meat and thicker, chewier noodles. I slurped down almost all the broth in the bowl, it was that good.
The other bowl variety we had was full of flavorful barbecued pork, fresh vegetables and cold noodles. The bowls come with a side of ginger sauce that gets dumped over the whole thing and mixed in, and one combination comes topped with a crispy egg roll. It's simple, fresh and flavorful.
We dug the small egg rolls filled with hot vegetables and spicy shreds of pork with a crisp and just greasy enough exterior, and the spring rolls, filled with pork and shrimp and served at room temperature. The restaurant's take on crab rangoon is unusual. Instead of the traditional soft bottom and crispy top, the Rangoon filling is encased in a triangle of deep fried crispy breading.
A Vietnamese version of “Hotel California” blasted during a Sunday morning breakfast as we braved the omelet side of the menu. We were surprised. The ultimate omelet was the size of a burrito at Chipotle, with airy eggs, cheese, spicy sausage and peppers and a great mix of texture and flavor. That flat, sad thing I expected wasn't what we got. A side biscuit seemed like it came from a package but was served warm, a plus. The syrup on the side of the plate of French toast we tried also came warmed — another good touch — but the toast didn't have a ton of flavor.
The bahn mi sandwich — called a baguette sandwich on the menu — had the perfect crusty-chewy warm bread, a delicious filling with spicy tofu chunks and meaty pork bits and a pleasing combination of cool vegetables and warm proteins. A spread of pork pate on the bread elevated the sandwich. I'd drive west again simply to take one of these to go.
Omelet & Viet Cuisine is under the radar, and both times we visited we were either the only diners or one of just two tables. A Vietnamese restaurant next to a gas station, admittedly, doesn't make much sense. But the rent is probably cheap and the food is truly fantastic.
This is another gold star for west Omaha. It sits comfortably along with Gold Mountain, Saigon, Canton House and Rivera's on my list of favorites.
* * * * *
OMELET & VIET CUISINE
Location: 16808 Audrey St.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Hit: Both the pho and bun bo hue soups were hot, brothy, flavorful and delicious.
Miss: The French toast, off the traditional American breakfast menu, left something to be desired.
Reservations: None taken.
Price: More than reasonable. A bowl of pho is $8.75 and is a full meal.
Service: Quick and friendly, though the employees don't speak much English.
Noise: The karaoke and piped-in music get loud, but it's part of the fun.