(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Many things are universal between cultural cuisines — the donut, for example, has many variations worldwide, as does the dumpling — but the most universally-shared cuisine might be soup. Specifically noodle soup. If there’s a chicken or cow on that continent, you better believe someone long ago paired their meat with broth and noodles. Noodle soup is resourceful, often made of stock or broth that draws nutrients from bones that otherwise might be discarded. A good noodle soup is a labor of love, taking hours to get right (unless it comes from a can). And noodle soup is “good for what ails you.”

In Vietnam, that soup is called pho (or “phở,”). It’s pronounced “Fuh.” It’s the country’s national dish. Pho is served hot, traditionally with beef, but also can be made with chicken or more than one protein. It has hints of ginger to it, and is often served with mung bean sprouts, fresh sliced jalapeno, fresh basil and a wedge of lime. There was a time, not long ago, that Erieites would have to travel more than 90 minutes to enjoy a bowl of pho, but those days have passed since Saigon Nights opened its doors late in 2022 (Nov. 25).

Nga Rastatter moved to the United States in 2007. In Vietnam, she was a pharmacist, she says. There, a pharmacist plays a greater role than United States pharmacists, diagnosing and treating minor ailments like infections. Her family owned a restaurant. The course of her life changed when she married an Erie man (Tim Rastatter) and moved to the states.

“When I came to Erie, I was looking for a Vietnamese restaurant. There were none. I had to go to Cleveland or Pittsburgh to get pho or any Vietnamese food,” Rastatter said. She had planned to open her own restaurant for a while. Then, about four years ago, Rastatter says she had saved enough money to launch a restaurant, but she was allegedly swindled out of it. “Two years later, I found out this place was being sold. I told them I was interested and I bought it.”

Walking into Saigon Nights is an experience of itself. The tables are set with baskets or dumpling steamer trays with several condiments that complement the Vietnamese cuisine — hoisin sauce, Sriracha, for example — and disposable wooden chopsticks. The back wall is a panoramic, tropical scene with ships, rock formations, emerald-green water and a pink sky. Plants, paintings and flowers hang on the other walls. It’s a welcomed respite from the Erie winter.

This isn’t Rastatter’s first business. She also owns a nail salon at Village West: Nail Creations- Microblading. And while it’s her first restaurant, she’s no stranger to cooking and she is confident in her cooking.

“(Cooking) is in my blood,” Rastatter said. “I learned from my own experience. Other cuisines have their own sauce. My recipes are my recipes. It’s like a secret recipe — nobody can have it. It’s so good, but nobody can tell what’s in it.

“When you love someone and you don’t know why but you just know that you love them — it’s the same thing with my sauce. It’s special. Only I have it.”

Her confidence in her cuisine, however, is paired with an affable nature; she’s a charmer. On the Saigon Nights Facebook page, there are countless posts of her taking photos and videos with customers. On her own phone, she scrolls through endless photos of happy diners who are enjoying her cooking. While interviewing with JET 24/FOX 66, she offered food and when that was politely declined, she offered a Vietnamese coffee. (The coffee was sweet and served over ice.) She made idle conversation about her family (Rastatter has three children), and she passionately talked about the food at Saigon Nights.

The food on the menu is varied — there are many traditional options, from appetizers to entrées. Seafood is prevalent on the menu (including salmon and lobster). There’s an ever-changing “chef’s special” menu, and she plans to offer more menu items when the time is right. But while the offerings are varied, her commitment to quality and tradition are never wavering. For example, Bánh mì is a traditional Vietnamese sandwich. It’s like a sub/hoagie with Vietnamese flair. It features a pork sausage, pickled carrots and daikon, pate, and a special mayonnaise served on a baguette-style bread. There is currently no Bánh mì on the menu at Saigon Nights.

“I can make the sauce, and I can make the meat, but the bread has to be Vietnamese. Everything I serve has to be Vietnamese, so I’m not going to use American bread for a Bánh mì,” Rastatter said. She added that she’s working on a bread recipe to bring a traditional Bánh mì to her menu.

That said, the menu already is expansive, and she describes the food as “delicious and fresh.”

“We have all seafoods of any kinds, meat of any kinds, and veggies because some people don’t like to eat meat,” Rastatter said. “Whoever has had Vietnamese food before or never have had it, please come to my restaurant to enjoy a nice place.

“During the cold weather, come have some traditional Vietnamese soup — pho. It takes hours to cook at home… it’s good for you. If you have a cold, come get some soup and you’ll feel better,” she added.

Saigon Nights is located at 2430 W. 8th St. More information can be found on the Saigon Nights website.