Bamboo Cafe

We have been driving by Bamboo Café on Bethel Rd for the past month or so– the spot they now fill has been empty a while. The reason – it is located behind a McDonald’s. Not the best location for any business, much less a restaurant. However, Annie was intrigued by the “curtain” of live bamboo that screen the window and the very beautiful décor within. Much begging ensued and we reluctantly gave in.

The Bamboo Café promises both Vietnamese and Thai food. We like both. We have our favorite places to go for each cuisine, but there is always room for one more restaurant on our list. MiLi’s (MiMi’s) is my normal go-to place for pho and sets the standard by which I judge all others. We have also become big fans of Tai Thai in Grandview for Thai curries.

We came into a nearly empty restaurant on a Thursday lunch. There was a single waitress on the floor and one other couple at a neighboring table. As we sat down, we admired the scenery – bamboo walls, a bamboo archway over the entrance to the kitchen, rich textiles under the glass of the tabletops. It looked nice.

The menu was limited, but offered a sampling of standard dishes from both cuisines. The prices were a little on the high side - $10.00 for a bowl of pho, $9.50 for curry.

After looking over the menu, I decided to get the Pho. Annie chose a Thai red curry. Tony asked the waitress what she recommended and she pointed out the same pho dish that I had ordered, so that is what he ordered. Tony and Annie asked for water, and I ordered hot tea.

The whole group started to get bad “vives” when the add-ins for the pho came out. The Thai basil was wilted and bruised, as was the culantro. The sirrachi and hoisin sauce bottles were kind of “gnarley” and needed a good wipe down.

Yummmm - rotting vegetation!

The food arrived quickly. Much to our regret. It was terrible. I know that is brutal – but true.

The worst bowl of pho EVER!

First the pho. For those of you who have never had pho, I need to explain a basic technique that goes with the dish. Thinly sliced raw beef is placed into the bowl, then very hot broth is poured over the top. This cooks the beef quickly, and it is very tender. I’ve heard it termed “shaboo-shaboo style”. Not so with the Bamboo café. The meat had been precooked, re-warmed (possibly in a microwave) and then put in the soup. It was like chewing on old shoe leather. The same was true of the tendon meatballs. I had never had a tough meatball before – but I can no longer say that. To top all this off – the broth was straight out of a can. Nasty, metallic beef broth. The whole dish was inedible.

My daughter’s curry was the wrong dish. She had ordered the red curry. What she received was a pale yellow in color. The beef was the same as in the pho – pre-cooked, re-warmed and dumped into re-warmed curry base. The curry sauce had no real flavor other than that of coconut milk. So, tough nasty beef in a bland sauce.

Does this look red to you?

The meal was so bad we didn’t finish it. The waitress asked if we wanted to take the leftovers home and we said no. In most restaurants with an experienced wait staff – this would have been a tip off something was wrong. Fat people who didn’t want to take the extras home. We tried to explain that the food was not good, but the explanation appeared to be lost on her, as her English vocabulary was not very strong.

We were presented with the bill. I asked her to take off the tea – which I had never received. All told, our lunch came to $35.00 with tip. That is a lot cash for bad food and mediocre service in a pretty setting.

So, in summation, I would rather have bamboo under my fingernails than ever eat at Bamboo Cafe again.

Read my reactions to the Dispatch Review here

Bamboo Cafe on Urbanspoon


Columbus Foodie said...

Brutal review - but thanks for the warning. There are too many good Vietnamese and Thai restaurants in town to spend good money at a place that is awful.

Once again, you've taken one for the team. ;)

dplynch said...

i ate there the other day and it was incredible.... maybe we just lucked out, but my wife and i were both very impressed. she had the pad keemaw (aka drunken noodle) and it was awesome, i had a green curry that was super-delicious. maybe give them another try? a dispatch photographer was there while we were finishing up, taking pictures of some extremely beautiful plates - ours were pretty impressive as well.

Michael Hannemann said...

This is a shame! Someone mentioned the restaurant on NPR this morning, so I was thinking of checking it out.

Question to you & ColumbusFoodie: Where do you go for Thai food around here? We moved to Columbus 3 years ago, and haven't really answered that question yet.

Rosie said...

Foodie - I had some bad luck when eating out recently- here's hoping to more success in the new year.

dplynch -Since you had the Dispatch there taking photos, I am betting they had their A-game on. We may have encountered the second string because we went in on a Thursday afternoon. My pictures show you what came out to our table. That means they have serious quality control issues - and unless they fix them, this won't be the only bad review they get.

I'll give them at least another 12 months before I try them again. If they are still around, then they deserve a second chance. If they are gone, then they didn't fix their problems fast enough.

Michael - PS Thai Tai in Grandview was pretty tasty. I had the green curry there and it was really nice. Just make sure you stock with the Thai food and avoid the Chinese menu - its not as good. I have also gone to Thai Taste off of Kenny and it has been very hit or miss.One time the pad thai was so bad I sent it back and another so good I almost wept.

My friend Moose has been begging me to go to Bangkok on the East side. He says it is one of his favorites and has never had a bad experience there.

Anonymous said...

for Viet' food, try halong bay up in polaris!my fav place

Anonymous said...

I dined at the Bamboo Cafe during a Sunday lunchtime. While I was eating I found a piece of plastic in my pho. When I grabbed a server's attention, he and another man that looked like a manager came to the table as well. The man that looked like a manager simply asked, "What is that?" and the server replied saying that it was a piece of plastic. So instead of offering a new soup or even removing the pho off of my tab as an apology, the man that looked like a manager said nothing while the server said sorry. I have never been to a place where I have found an object in my food with such a horrible follow up like this.

Rosie said...

Wow - that's really bad. I think that the people who run the Cafe must not have worked restaurants in Columbus before. Little things like this will slowly kill whatever "glow" they got from their Dispatch review.

Anonymous said...

I've been told with my friends that Bamboo Cafe is not good, pricy, and small portion for lunch and dinner. So, I went ahead to give myself a try thinking that my friends were just unlucky or order something not good. And we went there with my family and the first impression of the setting was nice, but as I sit down and they gave us the utensils, some are dirty as if they didn't wash properly. My impression was down until I saw the food myself and they are indeed very small portion and they tasted bad...regardless what you order. Don't believe me...read other comments...To make it worst, I have a 2-mo baby needs to warm a bottle of milk and I asked for a hot water in a bowl, and the waitress had been told not to give the hot water coz they didn't want to responsible for the liability by giving the hot water. This is insane!! Unbelievable!! they don't have human feelings...I think they don't like baby/kids..!! Please people...don't go there if you don't want to be hurt or waste your time and money....I will report this to many other friends, medias to make sure they will pay a price for doing this. They just ruined our day.

Anonymous said...

Man, worst of the worst restaurant in columbus!!!!
I've never in my life ate such a nasty food. I don't see any authentic of Thai nor vietnamese food at all.
It's a shame that they have the spirit to open the restaurant. I think they will not last very long at all...maybe 1 year if they're lucky.

So, he knew that his food is not good and didn't like to accept the truth.

They should just close the door and go take some other cooking classes before opening a business.

For you who never had ate thai or vietname food will probably think differently. But, once you had the real food, you'll know what i'm talking about.

I highly recommend you to avoid going there.......

Anonymous said...

This restaurant need to SHUT the door soon...the owner doesn't have attitude or business manner....We were there with friends and as we paid to the cashier, the owner asked us how was the food and I replied "It's ok!" and he replied back "Oh, if you don't like the food, please don't come back here again!" I was shocked and said "What did you say?" and he repeated the second time. And I almost want to yell at him but there're people eating so I said "Don't worry! we won't come back here!" How rude and arrogant he was to say that to customer...and he is even the owner...he thought that his food is the best in town...yuckss!!! I WILL NEVER COME BACK AND I WILL TELL THE WHOLE WORLD NOT TO GO THERE!! WARNING!! NEW COMERS!!!!

Anonymous said...

I was at the restaurant the restaurant this Tuesday with my mother and two sisters. We are Vietnamese people. The food tasted delicious. My mother ordered pho and I ordered bun bo. The taste reminded me of the Vietnamese taste back home. I feel that it is necessary to give this restaurant another chance before firing so many bullets. Maybe the taste is just "different." "Different" is much different than "bad."

Anonymous said...

I went to BamBoo Cafe and the pho was delicious. The people who say that the food was bad D0 NOT know how to enjoy Vietmanmies food.

Rosie said...

Dear anonymous Vietnamese people - who may or may not be friends of the restaurant owner - if the food you had back home was composed of tough over-cooked beef and tinny beef broth from a can, I feel sorry for you.

However, have you considered that maybe the people who run Bamboo Cafe are biased towards you because you are Vietnamese? Maybe the food they served me was bad because I am Caucasian.Maybe the guy back in the kitchen said to himself "Gee I bet they wouldn't know if I serve them the left overs from last night." I have been eating Vietnamese food for about 25 years - I do know that Vietnamese food is very different. And I like the differences - that's why I tried the Bamboo Cafe in the first place. Maybe you guys should take me out to dinner there on your dime and we'll see if it is any better.

Anonymous said...

The photograph of the worst pho is not right because we are not sopose to put rice in the pho and they put to much of the spicy things in there so it looks so lite and so nasty!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

The owner does have manners because when I was there eating and I heard that there was a person that ate and DID NOT pay and guess what that the owner did not say something mean and he was a nice and kind person and said that it is ok and god bless them

Rosie said...

ummmmmmmmm what rice in the pho? That bean sprouts on top... and it does not have any of the spicy sauce in it at all.What you see is what I got.

I stand behind what I experienced and your efforts to undermine my review is a sure sign that the owner is onto me...

And my question for anonymous person is why did the customer you mentioned not pay? Was it because the food was bad? Or the service was bad?

Cafe Fan said...

I am not an experienced Vietnamese foodie, nor an anonymous eater. I'm just a person who likes good food and that's what I've had all three times I've eaten at Bamboo Cafe. The restaurant is clean, serene and friendly. I love My husband and I have been treated well by two waittresses and the owner. The remark about being discriminated against as a caucasian doesn't hold up---I'm caucasian also and have been treated very well there. Hope you all give it another try.

Rosie said...

Cafe Fan,

With so many other great places to eat in Columbus, it will be a long time before I head back to the Bamboo Cafe. When I eat out, I am spending my own hard earned cash. When things are really wrong in a restaurant - as they were with my experience at this restaurant - it will take something really special to get me back.

On the other hand, I recently went out to Indochine on the East side. The decor was dismal. The parking lot had cracks in it that would eat a Smart Car.On the other hand, the people were super friendly, the food was fantastic and the prices were right. I will be making my way back to Indochine very very soon - and taking my friends.

If you had a good experience at Bamboo Cafe, I am glad the owner is getting his problems fixed. Columbus is a tough restaurant town and consistency is the key to success.

John said...

You people do not know you are talking about!

Over the past fifty years, it has been my good fortune and genuine pleasure to have been able to eat Thai food across the entire united states, in several European and Asian Countries and, most importantly, in the course of two several months long trips, across the length and breadth of Thailand itself. Rarely, (very rarely) and only in the homes of affluent hosts in Thailand have I eaten such wonderfully fresh and skillfully prepared food. Even the best Thai restaurants in the US are a bit formulaic and repetitive. Not so at this gem of a Thai restaurant! Bamboo Cafe's meals are the absolute best of "non-commercial" home cooking style of Thai food and it is available right here in Columbus Ohio! About once a week over the past two months, I have regularly tried the various Thai dishes on the Bamboo Cafe menu and every one of them rates a "rave review."

The various curries are all subtle and delicately flavored (the food is never spicy except at special request) and the sauce that is left after you have finished the meat and vegetables give a delightful finish to the remainder of the (usually in the US) half finished serving of rice. The only problem with the Bamboo Cafe that I can think of is that I can have a very hard time deciding which item(s) I want.

I have read a few reviews by people who either did not like the food or thought it was too expensive. WRONG! The authors simply do not know what they are talking about in terms of authentic Thai food and the quality of supplies (they get special rice and mangos from Thailand for example) cost them money which by all right they should recoup. In my view, it is very inexpensive for what one gets. My guess is that the complainers (other than the obvious perpetual curmudgeonly grousers ("nothing is ever good enough for me") have never had the opportunity to even sample this level of Thai cuisine and that it therefore tastes strange to them.

Take some heart-felt advice form an old man. If you have not tried it do so, and if you have tried it and found it wanting, go back with a completely open mind as to what Thai food should taste like and prepare for a great treat.

Rosie said...


It's wonderful to educated by one such as yourself. I guess the beef in the soup wasn't tough and chewy - just delicate. And that tinny taste to the broth - why it must have been some exotic spice I had never encountered before, maybe "soupcan spice"? Am I pronouncing that right? Where does the accent fall?

While I have never been to Thailand, I have eaten at Thai restaurants all over the country - some of them that are supposed to be the best at replicating Thai cuisine as found in its native country. I am used to the way Thai food should taste. And son, if my experience at Bamboo Cafe was an example of fantastic Thai home cooking, I'll stay home and eat cabbage rolls instead.

Bad food is just Bad food. That crosses all the international boundaries. Take it from an middle aged fat chick who has eaten lots of Thai food, Bamboo Cafe was speaking the international language that afternoon - and no amount of pontificating will change what I experienced.

laosgigglez said...

Menu: Bamboo Cafe
Thursday, August 20, 2009 6:00 AM
By G.A. Benton

Jodi Miller photo Jodi Miller photoBamboo Cafe

774 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side

614-326-1950 614-326-1950

For a complete guide to local restaurants, click to ColumbusDiningGuide.com
When my dentist offers a recommendation, I listen. I mean, the man was dead-on about the flossing, right? So when he tossed me a heads-up about Bamboo Cafe on Bethel Road (near his office), I filed it under "Future Reconnaissance Mission."

Well, several visits later I'm able to report that Bamboo Cafe is an impressively clean restaurant serving food with impressively clean flavors. Somewhat unusually, its menu of pleasing and even nuanced dishes is split down the middle between Thai and Vietnamese choices.

Inside, the bright and charming little place heroically lives up to its name - there's bamboo all over. It comes in the form of leafy living plants splayed against the front window, burnished ladders leaning against a wall-length screen, columns forming the base of a thatched-roof hut facade and twisty green sprigs enlivening every single table.

There's also a gurgling fountain featuring a Buddha holding a blue-lit spinning ball and a pretty overall floral thing going on with real flowers and 2-D ones framed on walls and printed on fanciful crimson chair cushions. This colorful and cheery scenery is equaled in mood by the busy mini-staff of two, who seem genuinely sincere in their frequent "Is everything delicious?" inquiries.

Well, even though menu-mentioned ingredients were quite often missing from the dishes, everything pretty much was delicious. And unlike many others of its ilk, Bamboo's flavors came off as more calibrated, subtle and deliberate - as opposed to those who wildly clobber your tongue with the forceful tones associated with these cuisines (though I dig that approach too).

Of course if one diner's subtle is another diner's bland, then consider yourself forewarned.

"see, they must be good! they went into columbus alive"

laosgigglez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry W. Virden said...

With regards to Inochine, I've eaten there a half dozen times over the past 6 months and have been very pleased each time I've been there. The focus there is Vietnamese, and while I've never been to Vietnam, the food at Indochine has always been well prepared. I have found, at least once, that when there is a lot of customers I had to ask twice for my Thai tea, but other than that, the food has been great. On the weekend, ask about the weekend specialities. I had a wonderful bowl of duck soup a few months ago that was amazing.

**5p34k1nt0ngu35** said...

My family ate here a few months back based on a review in the local paper. The food was good, but none of the dishes had a unique flavor--at least not to the extent you can get at a fusion restaurant like Lemongrass. The portions were too small for the size of the check as well. Definitely not bad food, but compared to Indochine...no comparison, really.