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Linh's a winner

Vietnamese dishes with herbs from the garden out back.

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SENSATIONAL: The mix of warm tofu, chilled vegetables and salty peanuts make the Tofu Lemongrass a nice complexity. - LARISSA GUDINO
  • Larissa Gudino
  • SENSATIONAL: The mix of warm tofu, chilled vegetables and salty peanuts make the Tofu Lemongrass a nice complexity.

Locally owned restaurants in Russellville often shut down within their first year: It's a tough business to get into. But Linh's Vietnamese Cuisine is the exception.

This family-run business, in an old burger joint next to a gas station-turned-pawn shop, is thriving. After five years in business, it's become a regular spot for locals and travelers that appreciate its vicinity to Interstate 40. With minimal staff, increasing popularity and a focus on freshness, Linh's might not always get your food out to you quickly, but good things comes to those who wait.

We're regulars. One of our go-tos is the slow brewed and stout cups of iced Vietnamese coffee ($3.99). Though slow brewed in this case means sometimes the coffee will come with your entree, it's got a kick we like. We've enjoyed all the food we've sampled, too.

On a recent visit, we went with one of the restaurant's 13 pho options, a vermicelli dish and the classic Vietnamese sandwich, banh mi.

The first to arrive at the table was the Pho Special ($8.45). The server had suggested we order a small and gestured to a neighboring table a bowl large enough to baptize a puppy. She'd steered us in the right direction. This pho was a noodle soup with eye of round steak brisket, tender meatballs and a few vegetables in a light broth. The broth is comfort food — it's got a hint of salt and a delicious blend of flavors from the beef, onions, and herbs plucked from the garden behind the restaurant. It had a touch of sweetness, perhaps from a mix of citrus and basil. We thought the beef soaked up a lot of the flavors nicely, but the pieces were so large they were difficult to eat. (No one else at the table seemed to feel this way about the meat, though.)

The next dish was the Tofu Lemongrass ($8.50), or T2 on the menu. A substantial portion of vermicelli was served with lettuce, cucumber, pickled carrots, fried onion, a dash of crushed peanuts and mint leaves with a small bowl of sweet and spicy sauce on the side. Vegetarian options are often an afterthought, but not at Linh's. The tofu is cut into bite-size pieces that absorbed the favor of the lemongrass. It offered a mix of sensations: the soft vermicelli and the firm tofu were warm, the vegetables were crisp and chilled. The splay of peanuts added a hint of salt and crunch.

BANH MI: Makes a meal. - LARISSA GUDINO
  • Larissa Gudino
  • BANH MI: Makes a meal.

One of our dining companions got the chicken banh mi ($4.50), a 6-inch sandwich that was listed under appetizers but stood alone as a meal. The original comes with "sliced steam pork roll," Chinese BBQ pork and "pork ear ham." Or you can make your own with chicken, grilled pork or beer. All options come in an oven-toasted hoagie with chicken liver paste (something that sounded questionable — but worked), pickled carrots, cilantro and jalapeno. Unlike a traditional deli sandwich where the fillings are cold or the entire sandwich is popped into the oven to toast, the banh mi mixed it up. Our friend described it as "angels against taste buds."

Linh's Vietnamese is affordable, delicious and has a kind, personable staff. The biggest downside to this place is that it's in Russellville, a town that you will willingly make up excuses to visit just to stop at Linh's.

Linh's Vietnamese Cuisine
624 S. Knoxville Ave.
Russellville
479-498-6495

Quick bite

Linh's has a small Asian market. Shelves against two walls in one corner of the restaurant hold sodas, cookies, snacks, noodles and other things that are tough to find in the Arkansas River Valley area.

Hours

10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday. Closed Wednesday.

Other info

No alcohol. Credit cards accepted.

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