January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants
Bright Vietnamese flavors hide in a Clarendon office building.
Reviewed By Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Cynthia Hacinli
Comments () | Published January 24, 2007
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Address: 2500 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201
Phone: 703-525-2828
Neighborhood: Arlington, Clarendon/Courthouse, Arlington
Cuisines: Vietnamese
Opening Hours: Open Tuesday through Thursday 11 to 10, Friday and Saturday 11 to 11, Sunday 11 to 10.
Nearby Metro Stops: Court House, Clarendon
Price Range: Inexpensive
Dress: Informal
Noise Level: Intimate
Reservations: Not Needed
Best Dishes Pork vermicelli, both northern (saltier) and southern (sweeter); banh xeo; fried shrimp-and-yam patties; dill-laced catfish, to be broken into hunks and folded into giant leaves of lettuce; a clay pot of sweet/peppery caramel sauce and bits of catfish; ch

No. 45: Minh's

If you tend to equate front-of-the-house refinement in Asian restaurants with back-of-the-house mediocrity, you might be cautious of this Vietnamese dining room. The setting has shades of maroon and plum setting off gleaming white tablecloths and elegant hanging lanterns. And the cooking at times can seem calculated to satisfy a Western diner’s pleasure centers, as the kitchen turns up the sweet in its dishes, maximizes opportunities to send out something big and fried, and mutes its fish sauces.

But few restaurants at any price are as consistently delicious as Minh’s. The 100-plus-item menu covers a lot of ground, from pho to rice crepes to bun to broken rice dishes to caramel pots to mixed grills to daily fresh seafood specials, recently including a plate of big fried soft-shells draped with slivers of ginger and fried lettuce. It even brings northern and southern preparations together memorably in a dish called dong xuan, a grilled-pork vermicelli. The southern style threads the cubes of pork on a skewer and leaves the fish sauce on the side; the northern dunks the cubes in the fish sauce. Both are powerhouses of flavor, the pork as luscious and full of smoky char as great barbecue, and even better when tossed with the bowl of vermicelli noodles and topped off with pickled radish and fresh sprigs of mint.

A marvelous caramel pot of pork—thick slices of meat submerged in a bubbling, sticky, lightly peppery caramel sauce—is nearly as memorable. Pho, a relatively weak link because the versatile kitchen doesn’t concentrate on cooking soup all day, benefits from a sharply seasoned broth and better cuts of meats than you find at the pho parlors. Even a tame-sounding chicken salad, a starter, proves irresistible, all brightness and crunch.

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Posted at 10:45 AM/ET, 01/24/2007 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Restaurant Reviews