100 Best Restaurants 2010: Present

No. 71: Present

Cuisine: The New Age–sounding names of many of the dishes, together with the over-the-top presentations (fried shrimp dangling in an elegantly carved pineapple boat), suggests an operation founded on kitsch. But there’s plenty of steak to go with the sizzle: This energetic restaurant has emerged as one of the leaders of Vietnamese cooking, turning out dishes of complexity and refinement—dishes that, at their best, rival the efforts of non-family-style places that typically cost three times as much.

Mood: From the tinkling fountain to the lodge-like surround of wood, a serenity belies the expectation of most ethnic family-run restaurants, which tend to emphasize a stark efficiency and a minimum of atmosphere. Present aims to dazzle you, and not just on the plate.

Best for: Special occasions on the cheap.

Best dishes: A mouthwatering hash of clams served in a giant sesame shell; a spot-on preparation of bun, with grilled pork and shrimp, a nest of veggies and a twirl of vermicelli; any of the masterful soups, including the Sour Spicy Seafood; a tenderer-than-usual rendition of “shaky” beef called Cow on the Open Field, tossed in a complex and zingy sauce; the best banh xeo, or stuffed crepe, in the area.

Insider tips: Many of the dishes are large and best suited for sharing.

Service: ••½

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive to moderate.

See all of 2010's 100 Best Restaurants 

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.