Long before pho and ramen became food-porn hashtags, there was Young’s Cafe.
Yvonne Young opened Fort Collins’ first Vietnamese restaurant in 1987 in a strip mall corner lot off of buzzing College Avenue. The casual, consistent family-run landmark has earned devoted followers ever since. Young’s has survived several FoCo restaurant scene reincarnations, prospering in a university town where highbrow outposts like the Kitchen shutters and poutine pubs with picnic tables flourish.
Young’s sustainability rests in mainstays like the shrimp crystal rolls ($6) tightly wrapped in mouth-melting rice paper and served with a generous saucer of addictive homemade sweet-salty peanut sauce. The locally adored lemongrass chicken noodle soup ($11), a spicy, brothy warm embrace on a cool day, is one of nine daily homemade soups. The smoky grilled shrimp bowl ($12) served over vermicelli noodles makes lunch a layered feast of bean sprouts, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, cilantro sprigs, and crushed peanuts. Extra-crispy fried pork spring rolls are chopped and tossed on top, and the server knowingly brings along a carafe of vinegary house-made fish sauce for dousing.
The mammoth menu—plumped over the years by regulars’ requests—calls on delicate, fresh influences from Chinese and French kitchens, unfolding in a spiral-bound display of DIY rice paper wraps, flaming pot soups, stir-fries presented on sizzling skillets, rich coconut curries, and oversize traditional Vietnamese pho noodle bowls.
“We cannot add anymore. The menu is too big,” laughs co-owner Simon Young, who took the helm a few years ago after his sister retired. Best of Fort Collins dining accolades wallpaper the 150-seat restaurant’s entrance. Recipes passed down from their mother live on in marinades, curries, and a legit beef bone broth steeped in toasted anise star, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon and simmered for 10 hours. In fact, Young’s is credited with introducing classic Vietnamese pho to Fort Collins over 30 years ago.
The next time you’re in northern Colorado and craving a healthy dose of Vietnamese flavors and family hospitality, look for the unassuming maroon awning beyond the comic book store and nail studio, and cozy into a booth at Young’s Cafe. It’s a textbook winter nook that just may become your snow-day go-to.
3307 S. College Ave., Fort Collins