From June 2006 Cheap Eats
With its wood paneling and rows of cafeteria tables, you might think you've wandered into a Midwestern beer hall, not the area's best, most consistent Vietnamese restaurant, now well into its third decade.
Few servers speak English, but genial owner Hai Huynh is bound to check on each table. Order Chim Cut Quay, an appetizer of roasted quail, and he's there telling you to season its beautifully lacquered skin with lime juice and a bit of black pepper–then give you license to tear at the bird with your hands. Banh Cong, dense muffins crowned with shell-on shrimp, feels less like breakfast when bundled with mint and basil leaves and washed in the thin, sweet fish sauce nuoc nam. Pork spring rolls and cool lotus root spiked with lime juice are nice small bites, too.
There are fine renditions of bun, heaps of cold vermicelli that show off grilled meats and fresh herbs, but you can find it on most Vietnamese menus. Turn instead to the excellent soups, many big enough for four. They might bob with plump shrimp and roasted pork, but their wonderfully complex broths make them special. A bowl of Canh Chua Tom, sweet-and-sour shrimp soup stirred with rice, gets a perk-up from fragrant celery. Also deserving of attention are the more-unusual noodle preparations, the caramel seafood hot pots, and the herb-strewn rice crepes.
What to drink is a tough choice. Almost a dozen flavors of teas and juices float with tapioca bubbles or slivers of gelatin. While coconut and strawberry varieties are wincingly sweet, don't miss the tart, tropical varieties like jackfruit and soursop. Soda Lemon, a sparkling mix of seltzer and fresh lemon juice stirred with sugar, is bracingly addictive. Vietnamese iced coffee, thick with condensed milk, is better as a dessert.