Bún bò xả ớt is an iconic Vietnamese lemongrass chili beef, sweet, smoky, and delicious, traditionally served up with rice, noodles, or in salad rolls.

My family is from the deep, deep countryside of Vietnam – a tiny fishing village along the coast where no tourists ever visited. My mom kept baby ducks and baby pigs as pets and forebade my grandma from killing them for dinner. Like in France and anywhere else, countryside-folk and seaside-folk take food far more seriously than city-dwellers do.

Bún Bò Xả Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

In her part of the world, my mom is famous for this dish. When she was younger, it’s what she would make for dinner parties and celebrations. A few years back, she visited some old friends in Melbourne. They invited a large bunch of people who all came from the same little village, and, you guessed it, asked her to make it for them.

Steph doesn’t really know it, but it was even a housewarming gift my mom gave us when we moved in together: a 5lb brick of the chicken version of this stuff to be kept in the freezer and made as-needed. Steph always asked for more, but it never happened because my mom essentially retired from cooking.

Bún Bò Xả Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

I would love to say that this recipe came from my mom, but it would only be a half-truth. When I was younger, I asked her how to make this and got the usual “a little of this and a little of that.” I’ve since refined it into the recipe below over the years. It’s informed and inspired by the taste of my mom’s version, and tastes very similar, but modernized. Honestly, I like my version better for its ease, simplicity, and reproducibility by anyone-ness. I can’t deny that my mom’s version will always be nostalgic for me, but this new version is my go-to, although maybe it’s time to invite my parents over for lunch with a big case of out-of-retirement pre-marinated meat and experience the nostalgia all over again.

Note: this recipe is for the vermicelli noodle bowl version because that’s how people know it, but my family would just family-style all the components around a tabletop grill and roll everything into salad rolls at the table.

What is bò xả ớt?

Bò xả ớt means beef with lemongrass and chili. It’s a favorite dish in Vietnam and increasingly famous in the rest of the world. It’s charred, smoky, lemongrassy, sweet, and slightly spicy beef, usually served as part of a vermicelli bowl or in a rice plate, or as the central protein of a salad roll party, although that’s usually more done at home. If you can find the DIY salad roll version in a restaurant, you’ve struck gold.

Bún Bò Xả Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

What cut of beef should you use for bò xả ớt?

The best cut of beef for bò xả ớt is a bit of a contentious debate. My mom would say triple AAA USDA prime ribeye. The internet says flank or skirt steak. I say, you are overcooking the heck out of this, it won’t matter. Get the cheapest steak you would like to get.

Chill your beef thoroughly before slicing, and don’t be afraid to pop it back in halfway through if it gets warm. You want fairly thin slices, 1/8″ or less. If you are buying from a butcher or a good grocery store with a meat department, they might do it for you.

Bún Bò Xả Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Grilling vs Frying

In much of Vietnam, the correct way to cook any meat is grilled over hot coals, or these days, gas. I completely agree with this: if you can be bothered to turn on the bbq, you should do so. If you have a tabletop grill, these also produce excellent results (and is how we eat it when we have dinner with my parents on their deck).

But, I’ve also tried frying it literally every way: in cast iron, in stainless steel, in nonstick, and in a wok, and I can confidently say some of the easiest and best results come surprisingly from nonstick. The charring you see in these photos come from a nonstick–except the one below, which is cast iron.

Bún Bò Xả Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Mortar and Pestle

If you have the equipment and willingness, a mortar and pestle goes a long way towards authenticity, both to the Vietnamese-ness of this recipe and to the countryside-ness of it too. Chopping doesn’t release the flavors and juices the way a good crushing in a mortar and pestle does. It’s completely optional, and you can just chop away, but to me, the mortar and pestle makes all the difference.

Bún Bò Xả Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Spice level

The name of this dish includes chili, and central Vietnam is known for some super spicy food, but it doesn’t need to be if you don’t want to fry your tongue. I’ve given the appropriate amounts in Thai chili to make this a pleasant amount of spiciness (my mom’s version would have 4x as many chilies), but if you don’t like spice, swap the Thai chilies out for another red chili of choice, including bell peppers if that is what you like.

I hope you try this dish, it’s one of my personal soul food meals. If you like it, please share it widely, because there are some truly terrible versions floating around the internet, though I’m sure that’s the case for any cuisine.

—lemongrass is my drug of choice

Bún Bò Xã Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Bún Bò Xã Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

The Best Bún Bò Xả Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe

Smoky umami goodness in a bowl.
Serves 4
4.79 from 52 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Marinating Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes


  • 1 lb beef eg cheap sirloin, thinly sliced 1/8" thickness
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1" ginger minced, about 30g/2 tbsp
  • 6 cloves garlic crushed
  • 2 stalks lemongrass minced, about 30g/2 tbsp
  • 8 Thai chilies sliced, or other red chili of choice
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce see note
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp oil

Optional Components for the Noodle Bowl

  • 4 portions vermicelli
  • 1/4 English cucumber thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup lettuce or cabbage thinly sliced
  • 4 wedges lime
  • 1/4 cup cilantro roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup mint roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup fried shallots commercially available


  • At least 1 hour before (overnight is better), marinate the beef: crush 1 tablespoon of sugar, half the ginger, 2 cloves of garlic, half the lemongrass, and 1 Thai chili in a mortar and pestle. Combine with the thinly sliced beef, along with 1 tablespoon each of fish sauce, oyster sauce, and oil. Mix well, then cover and store in the fridge.
    Bún Bò Xã Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • At the same time, make your fish sauce: combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of ginger, 4 cloves of garlic, and 2-4 Thai chilies (as comfortable) in a mortar and pestle. Crush into a fine paste, then transfer to a jar along with 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and 1 cup of water. Store in the fridge.
    Bún Bò Xã Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • When you are ready to eat, cook your vermicelli to the time indicated on the package (usually 3 minutes), then drain and rinse well with cold water. Set aside. Prepare your vegetables. In the photo, I used quick pickled cucumbers, purple cabbage, lettuce, cilantro, lime, and fried onions.
    Bún Bò Xã Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • To make quick pickled cucumbers, thinly slice 1/4 of an English cucumber, then toss with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let sit for 15 minutes, then rinse in cold water.
    Bún Bò Xã Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Heat a large nonstick skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Fry your remaining 1 tablespoon of minced lemongrass until crispy and golden brown, then drain and set aside, reserving the oil.
    Bún Bò Xã Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Add the marinated meat to the skillet and fry until well charred on both sides. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your nonstick skillet.
    Bún Bò Xã Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Arrange vermicelli, vegetables, and beef in a bowl. Toss with 1/4 cup of the fish sauce, then top with fried lemongrass, fried shallots, a squeeze of lime, and sliced chilies, as desired.
    Bún Bò Xã Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
The Best Bún Bò Xả Ớt - Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 299 Calories from Fat 95
% Daily Value*
Fat 10.6g16%
Saturated Fat 3.1g19%
Cholesterol 101mg34%
Sodium 1201mg52%
Potassium 495mg14%
Carbohydrates 13g4%
Fiber 0.2g1%
Sugar 10.4g12%
Protein 36.5g73%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.


  1. Sabrina says:

    this is so interesting, both about your Mom’s cuisine and the recipe, great flavors! And yes, grilled meat is best!

  2. Nitin says:

    I love bun bo xa! I used to work at a Vietnamese restaurant in college and it was the best! That’s when I fell in love with Vietnamese food and like you mentioned: it was the food I didn’t know I was missing. Till
    Today the way Thu Tran made his version (and we got a dinner to take home every night) was and is still the best. I tried recreating it on my own blog too. They called it Bun Bo Xao Xa Ot and ive realizes that the same dish names can vary a tiny bit.

    1. Mike says:

      I read your post, it’s awesome and yours looks really good! Did you get the recipe from the restaurant? It looks legit. The names vary mostly on preparation style, so Bun Bo Xao Xa Ot means stir fried. If you see Bo Nuong Xa Ot it means grilled (and it is amazing, we’re going to do it for dinner tonight in salad rolls).

  3. Jennifer says:

    Beef was delicious. Excellent marinade. Tasty dish and perfect dinner for a muggy summer evening!

  4. Annie says:

    Mike! Thank you so much for this recipe. My husband has missed being able to go out for this dish, and your recipe was PERFECT! We loved it so much.

    1. Mike says:

      Thanks Annie! I’m glad it worked for you!

      1. Lissa says:

        Question: do you only use the tender center parts of lemongrass or the tough leaves, too? I’m never sure. Most parts of lemongrass are inedible.

        1. Stephanie says:

          hi lissa,
          we use the tender inside lighter parts :)

  5. lizzie says:

    Made this for my dinner tonight and it was insanely delicious! The flavour of the beef was just divine. Thanks for sharing such a great recipe!

    1. Mike says:

      Thanks Lizzie!

  6. Amanda Le says:

    My hubs is Vietnamese American and I would love to surprise him with a dish like this. Only problem is I am deathly allergic to fish/shellfish. Is there anything i can sub for the fish sauce?

    1. Mike says:

      Hi Amanda, if you live near a Vietnamese/Asian grocery store like 99Ranch, they might have vegan fish sauce. If there is more than one brand, I generally suggest people to pick the one with the biggest text on the label in Vietnamese. Look for the words nước mắm chay – chay means vegan so be sure that’s included. If you can’t find it easily, I think you’d get 90% of the flavor just substituting with salt, my family often switches out for salt when we want a cleaner taste.

  7. Kristina says:

    Well, I messed this recipe up, because I was rushing, and it was delicious anyways! I have got to start reading all the way through before I start. I put all of the saucey ingredients together and tossed in the meat to marinate, so I really didn’t do it correctly, but the flavors were all there and delicious. YUM! Next time I’ll know better.

    Thank you!

  8. 5 stars
    i really like it!
    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Toàn says:

    Hi Mike, thanks for the nice write up & presentation. I’d like to point out a minor but kind of in the way detail: Sả
    Yup, that’s how to spell it: Sả
    Cheers & enjoy!

    1. Mike says:

      Hi Toàn, Thanks, I appreciate it! I know it’s ‘correctly’ spelled with an S, but in my family it’s spelled with an X because, well, slang. If you look at your local restaurant menu next time, you might see it spelled with an X as well. But I totally get where you’re coming from.

  10. yuna says:

    5 stars
    Made this last night for dinner. Left the meat to marinade for ~20H due to timing issues but turned out fine.

    Added all 8 bird’s eye chili (because we love heat) and it turned out the be perfect — spicy enough but not overwhelming (for us).

    I used iceberg lettuce to give it an extra crunchy contrast. Used short ribs, because that’s what we had in the freezer, letting it defrost in the fridge for an hour allowed the perfect texture to be able to cut very thin slices. The meat surprisingly reminded me of galbi! I’m thinking its the charred flavor since the marinade is completely different.
    This was an excellent dish that didn’t require too much meat and a good balance of veggies. Would definitely make this again — thanks for the recipe! :)

  11. Tonya says:

    5 stars
    We like medium spicy food so I used 4 instead of 8 chilis – glad I did as it was perfect for us. I haven’t cooked with fresh lemon grass before – it felt a bit tough so I cut it small, but perhaps that’s how it should be??? Anyway, I can’t wait to try another recipe from your site.

  12. Rebecca says:

    5 stars
    Absolute novice to making Vietnamese food, so I took it slow! Wow though, loved it so much, only question though is it meant to be cold? The beef was hot but the noodles, veg and sauce all cold? As a newbie to this type of food I wasn’t expecting it, but the taste was amazing!

    1. Stephanie says:

      hi rebecca, yes, the noodles are veg are cold and the beef is hot! sometimes the beef is room temp too :) glad you liked it!

  13. Hang says:

    Growing up, when we went to restaurants and the rest of the family orders pho, I was the black sheep that ordered bun thit nuong, which is just another version of this but the meat is supposed to be grilled. My parents were lazy and always called our beef noodle bowls bun bo. My dad made a version growing up that uses lots of curry powder and a ton of minced garlic. Are you at all familiar with that version at all? It’s a childhood meal that I’ve missed eating and would love to see a recipe for as no one seems to make the curry version. Maybe my dad invented, I dunno. LOL!

  14. Megan says:

    5 stars
    This was incredible and so flavorful. Brings us back to our time in Vietnam!

  15. truongvu says:

    very good. Thank you for posting

  16. Cullen says:

    5 stars
    Outstanding recipe! This dish was a restaurant favorite for us for years (especially during the summer heat when Pho is too hot to eat!), but we moved to a small town with no Vietnamese restaurant within 100 miles. This turned out great for us (although I added some sautéed white and green onions, garlic, and diced Serrano Chile to the meat – no Thai chiles at our market). Amazing!

  17. Kelly McDonald says:

    Execution question for you; would the “shaved steak” available for things like making Philly cheese steaks (non-marinated of course) be an acceptable option, or is that erring on the side of too-thin?

    1. Mike says:

      That would be an excellent option!

  18. K says:

    5 stars
    This turned out so much better than I’d even hoped. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  19. Leah says:

    5 stars
    I’ve made this several times with varying levels of spice, different meats, different marinating times, different methods of making marinade, etc. no matter how I’ve made this, each time it has been incredible! My partner has celiacs which makes eating Vietnamese food out a little tricky sometimes (can’t have traditional oyster sauce or soy sauce!) so getting to eat something so close to my heart at home has made this such a comfort food for me

  20. Stephen Paulson says:

    I usually use some Magi GF sauce in my bun bo xa. I also spent time working as a chef for Vietnamese restaurant group in Seattle that is legit Saigon Siblings run by Eric and Sophie Banh we always used beef should tender for ours.

  21. Gail Armand says:

    5 stars
    I made this with pork instead of beef. Used the country style extra inexpensive cuts that are about an inch by five inches, sliced before marinating then chopped a little bit so not too big in the mouth.

    I also used lemon grass in a tube as the kind we tend to get on the stalk is very woody.

    Grated the garlic, ginger, and peppers. Used habanero as available. Also added about 1/2 t sambal bajak.

    For toppers I made the quick cucumber as per recipe, mandoline sliced, with same as to radish, endive. Thin sliced green onion. Lots of young cilantro.

    The fish sauce is so good!

    It has been dog years since we’ve had Vietnamese food. My very favorite is at Slanted Door in San Francisco. This was not that, but the flavor profile was spot on. Thanks for a recipe that’s a full on keeper.

  22. Lauren says:

    5 stars
    Loved the recipe! Thanks for sharing!

  23. Cindy says:

    5 stars
    I LOVE Bun Bo Xao and have been wanting to make it at home. I found your recipe very easy to follow and my family gobbled it up. Best thing is I have leftovers for lunch too :) thank you!

  24. Chipo Sachirarwe says:

    5 stars
    Thank you so much for posting this tutorial on this keep makeing more👍👍👍👍👍👍😄😄😄😄😄

  25. Maria says:

    5 stars
    This was amazing! My wife and I LOVED it, we felt like we were eating a takeout meal! I used powdered lemongrass instead of fresh because it’s hard to find where we are and it came out perfectly! Highly recommend, thank you!!

  26. Ana says:

    Can I substitute the Thai chilis for sriracha?

    1. Stephanie says:

      it won’t have the same flavor but you can :)

  27. Amanda T. says:

    5 stars
    I’ve been craving lemongrass beef ever since our local Vietnamese restaurant closed. I was so happy to see how easy this recipe is! I even brought leftovers to work and my coworkers absolutely loved it! The pickled cucumber was amazing and the beef was out of this world! Thank you for posting this recipe!

    (Small note – We don’t have access to Thai chilis in rural Oklahoma, so I used gochugaru flakes and it was just as delicious!)

  28. Abby says:

    5 stars
    Thank you for sharing this delicious recipe. My husband and I often go to the local Vietnamese restaurants as we love the food . We both agreed that this recipe is way better than theirs .

  29. Jeff Smith says:

    5 stars
    Very tasty recipe. I used rump roast and cut it very very thin (3-4mm). Become a bit too crispy for preference of the family. Next time I think I may use chuck roast and cut it thicker, make a bit more sauce so it has more liquid and more lemon grass. I should also just cook it over charcoal. This will be an iterative process. Thank you for the recipe and the inspiration!

  30. Nicole says:

    5 stars
    Just returned from Vietnam, this recipe is delightful and reminds me of my travels. Will definitely be a regular in my house

  31. J says:

    5 stars
    This is a winner! I have made this a dozen times and will continue to do so. The marinade/meat freezes well. Enjoy it with asparagus – just toss in a bunch of sliced asparagus – quite often.

  32. Alix says:

    5 stars
    I made this dish last week and can’t stop thinking about it! I had to omit the chillies as the kids can’t handle any heat and they rarely like trying new food, but it was a huge success! I’m just wondering how long I can store any extra of the fish sauce for in the fridge? Will it spoil if not used within a couple of weeks?

    1. Stephanie says:

      you can keep it for a week or two, especially if you were careful about cross contamination :)

  33. Julie Baumlisberger says:

    5 stars
    I made this for dinner last night, using beef, and followed the recipe exactly. First time I used the mortal and pestle that was gifted to me some 20 years ago! I also made the pickled cucumber slices, and the same with radishes, added bean sprouts to the sauteed shallots…

    Absolutely delicious! I grew up with European cuisine, and have embraced learning other cultures’ dishes. This recipe is a keeper, thank you for all the detailed instructions, as well as sharing your family traditions.

    Much gratitude from Canada!

  34. Hannah says:

    5 stars
    could this be done as a slow beef aka pulled beef with a different cut of beef?
    ingredients sound delicious

    1. Mike says:

      Hi Hannah, you could do this with any cut of beef. I usually just go for whatever’s on sale.

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Thanks for reading as always!
-Steph & Mike