REVIEW: Vietnamese chicken rice is the star at Com Ga Houston in Duluth

This meal at Duluth’s Com Ga Houston includes bun mang, duck congee, fresh herbs and bean sprouts for garnishing the bowls, and com ga (chicken with rice). Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
This meal at Duluth’s Com Ga Houston includes bun mang, duck congee, fresh herbs and bean sprouts for garnishing the bowls, and com ga (chicken with rice). Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By any measure, it was an extraordinary day of eating. In the name of research, I hit three Gwinnett restaurants in a single afternoon — pizza, Korean fried bird and Vietnamese. When I posted photos of the binge on social media, it was the pizza that aroused the most curiosity.

I’ll get back to you on those sexy pies, but, today, I’m going to tell you about the area’s most exciting new Vietnamese restaurant, a place where simple poached chicken with rice (com ga) is the heart and soul of the menu. This supremely satisfying dish was by far the most memorable thing I tried on my Saturday ramble.

Khoa Do, a 37-year-old Vietnam native, who moved to the U.S. as a youngster, launched his restaurant career in 2016 with Blazin Cajun Seafood on Satellite Boulevard. There, he said, his customer base is 90 percent American. With Com Ga Houston, on nearby Steve Reynolds Boulevard in Duluth, the Georgia State University graduate wants to bring traditional Vietnamese food to his community, and thereby honor his heritage.

But, before Do could open Com Ga Houston, he had to convince the owner of the Texas original to grant him a franchise and share her recipes, which he learned during one intense week in Houston. After three visits to Com Ga Houston, I’d say he nailed it.

ExploreMore metro Atlanta restaurant reviews
Combined ShapeCaption
Com Ga Houston serves salads made with shredded cabbage, banana flower, and chicken or duck. This one has duck. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Com Ga Houston serves salads made with shredded cabbage, banana flower, and chicken or duck. This one has duck. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Combined ShapeCaption
Com Ga Houston serves salads made with shredded cabbage, banana flower, and chicken or duck. This one has duck. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Com ga hai nam is to Vietnam what Hainanese chicken rice is to Southern China. The chicken is poached in aromatics, sliced with bones still in, and served cold, beside a scoop of fragrant ginger rice. On the side are fresh and pickled vegetables; a sweet dipping sauce redolent of garlic, ginger, lime, red chiles and fish sauce; and a bowl of comforting chicken broth. This is the dish you must order on your first visit. I want to go back for a jumbo platter, and not share a grain of rice.

I suggest you pair your com ga with a salad (goi) in which poached chicken (or duck) is tossed with shredded cabbage, banana flower (or both), red onion and Vietnamese coriander leaves — and showered with crispy peanuts and fried shallots. Many years ago, I ordered a similar salad from room service at a glorious hotel in the heart of Saigon. I have not seen it since, and I don’t believe you will find it anywhere else in Atlanta.

One thing Georgia has in common with Vietnam is steamy hot weather, and, on a summer day when you are bathed with sweat, this cool, fresh, texturally snappy plate will center you like nothing else. I like the chicken version a good bit more than the duck.

ExploreGwinnett County dining news
Combined ShapeCaption
This order at Com Ga Houston includes chicken salad, chicken with pho, iced coffee and a tray of slivered banana flowers. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

This order at Com Ga Houston includes chicken salad, chicken with pho, iced coffee and a tray of slivered banana flowers. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Combined ShapeCaption
This order at Com Ga Houston includes chicken salad, chicken with pho, iced coffee and a tray of slivered banana flowers. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Noodle heads will find many soups to try at Com Ga Houston. There are egg noodles, clear noodles, udon noodles, noodles with bamboo shoots. I’m pretty smitten with the textbook chicken pho. The rice vermicelli soup with slivers of fresh bamboo is another winner. Like the shredded hearts of banana flower in the salads, fresh bamboo shoots aren’t all that common in Atlanta. The flavor is sweet, vaguely sour, delicate. I implore you to experience it.

Many soups come with pig’s blood, gelatinous cubes that taste (to me) just a little bit like liver. It’s a traditional ingredient — mild and hardly off-putting — that’s worth sampling — though, next time, I’ll be just as happy without it. I’m much more fond of the chicken giblets, which can be added to several dishes for $2.

In a metropolitan area teeming with Vietnamese spots of all kinds — pho parlors, banh mi shops, contemporary restaurants that take liberties with tradition — Com Ga Houston is in a class of its own. The food is impeccable, the service sweet, the dining room bright and inviting. A couple of years ago, Pho Ga Tony Tony (now shuttered) introduced us to exquisite chicken pho. Now, Com Ga Houston comes through with the rice. Game changer.

Combined ShapeCaption
Com Ga Houston, a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in chicken with rice and noodles, opened Feb. 2 in Duluth. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Com Ga Houston, a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in chicken with rice and noodles, opened Feb. 2 in Duluth. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Combined ShapeCaption
Com Ga Houston, a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in chicken with rice and noodles, opened Feb. 2 in Duluth. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

COM GA HOUSTON

Food: Vietnamese chicken rice and soups

Service: kind, patient, attentive

Best dishes: com ga, chicken pho, rice noodle soup with bamboo shoots, chicken salad with cabbage and banana flower

Vegetarian selections: just one, the salad without chicken

Alcohol: no

Price range: $

Pandemic safety: masks optional; management asks customers with COVID-19 symptoms to please stay home

Credit cards: all major cards accepted

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Children: yes

Parking: free in lot

MARTA station: no

Reservations: yes

Wheelchair access: yes

Noise level: low

Takeout: yes; delivery via GrubHub, Uber Eats, DoorDash and Skipli

Address, phone: 3350 Steve Reynolds Blvd., Duluth. 678-691-3143

Website: comgahoustonduluth.com

ExploreOur favorite dishes in Atlanta right now

Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining Newsletter

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.