One sign of increasing culinary sophistication is the appearance of a once-uncommon cuisine in neighborhoods - well, in St. Louis, let's just say suburbs - where it's never been found. And now Mi Linh brings Vietnamese to Rock Hill - maybe not so far out, but certainly a pho-free neighborhood.
The interior is pleasant and calm (unless it's crowded), with light fixtures shaped like lotus flowers about to bloom, and the staff are welcoming. Early glitches with service have mostly been straightened out, and food arrives piping hot, always a particular pleasure and sign of competence.
A kick-off of spring rolls was worrisome - they were indeed nice and fresh, but were underfilled with the shrimp, pork and onion, leaving little-to-no crunch and miniscule protein. The housemade sweet-savory sauce alongside was nice, topped with peanuts and crispy shards of fried onion, but necessary to avoid the feeling of eating nothing but rice paper and noodles.
Huge chicken wings, battered and deep-fried, were showered with sauteed bits of green onion and served alongside a sweet-and-sour sauce. The wings were tasty - would that more of the onion adhered to their crunchy exterior, however - and worked with or without the sauce.
Vietnamese salads seem to manage to be both light and hearty at the same time, at least the ones that contain meat or seafood. Alas, the mixed seafood salad seemed never to be available on these visits, but the beef salad was excellent, crisp julienne vegetables and very rare beef of good quality in a light fish sauce and lime dressing, some shrimp chips alongside for contrast. Not really a first course, more of a lighter main.
And that would be in contrast to the bun bo Hue, spicy beef noodle soup. A large bowl arrives, an orange sea with plenty of cilantro and green onion riding the waves. Noodles, yes, but also slices of beef and lean pork loin, a couple of pieces of light-colored sausage, and some sauteed white onion. Then the diner contemplates the side plate of add-ons, like menudo but more so. Lime wedges, slices of jalapeno, bean sprouts, shredded red cabbage, basil, mint and cilantro can be added. The heat factor in the basic broth is really pretty mild, but can be upped with sriracha, or rooster sauce, or a couple of other condiments on the table. Good stuff, and an immense serving, leaving lots for breakfast the next day.
There's been a lot of questions about whether fried rice is an American-Chinese dish like chop suey. Considerable argument has been made that variations of it appear wherever rice is a basic staple, so surely that occurs in Vietnam, too. The fried rice at Mi Linh is light, nicely un-greasy, and in the combination fried rice I tried, generously laced with shrimp, pork, beef and chicken, light on the egg. Good stuff, almost delicate.
Generally, the only dessert I crave at Vietnamese restaurants is cafe sua da, the rich iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. Do you know the drill? Coffee slowly drips into a glass with the milk in the bottom. When the dripping finishes, remove the top of the metal coffee-holder and use it as a saucer to place the holder on the table. Stir the coffee and milk together and pour over or add the ice cubes that arrived at the table simultaneously. Sip slowly and assess whether you can taste chocolate in it. (There's no chocolate - they use a chicory coffee.)
Lots of activity for casual business lunches and a very comfy place for solo diners in the evening. The owner recognizes her regulars, and makes them particularly welcome, I suspect.
9737 Manchester Rd., Rock Hill
Lunch and dinner Wed.-Mon.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair