This place just north of the gentrifying midMain corridor has apparently been taken over by young family members from the original chef of years gone by. It’s accessible, colloquial, downscale classy, and sexy. We had lunch on a recent Thursday and went away happy.
It’s an odd main floor space in a building made partly triangular by a one-block jog in Main Street. From the front it looks huge but the complex room is shallow. Walking in, a zaftig girl behind the bar managed to seem glad to see me as I arrived before my wife. We sat at a bar table against the outside window, looking onto an unimpressive urban bus stop. The waitress, cute in a guarded way, was friendly and helpful. The clientele felt like local residents and working people popping in on a weekday for reliably good food. There was at least moderate noise, and the physical ambience was more cafeteria than ethnic Asian dive.
But good the food was. The menu is extensive and very reasonably priced. I was in Hanoi a couple of years ago and astounded at the quality and value of its famous street food. I think the cuisine here is probably more South Vietnamese, differing slightly from what I enjoyed in old French Hanoi. There is quite an array of snacks, soups, vermicelli bowls, and rice plates, followed by a “bucket list” of mixed foods. We went for the Khay Bánh Hỏi Lụi Nướng or street-side platter, followed by Hủ Tiếu Khô: tossed noodles with grilled pork, prawn, quail egg and crackling chicken bits, which sounded damn seductive.
Vietnamese pasta is much lighter than the Italian version. The lovely rice paper and “cellophane” or mung bean noodles are a quickly acquired taste. They are ethereal where linguine and penne are substantial, and glide with silky elegance into the flavours they accompany rather than standing up to them al dente. Our first course had sausage, shellfish, beef, chicken, and spring roll set up to be enclosed in rice paper that you moisten in a bowl of stock making a soft, transparent, and slightly elastic wrap. You can include in it selections from a fanned-out variety of crunchy vegetables on the serving platter. Delicious with a soy-based sauce.
The noodles in the Hủ Tiếu Khô were heaped over the top of a wee bit disappointingly small quantities of the above-mentioned goodies, but were themselves delicate and transparent, not overly-filling, and a lovely partner to the crispy and soft meat that was available at the bottom of the bowl.
We drank Vietnamese beer which I remembered to be delicious and inexpensive, pilsnerlike and a fine accompaniment to the victuals.
We would go back, although this is more of a neighbourhood show than a city-wide destination (so I guess I’m saying we would go back if we were in the neighbourhood). The dinner menu didn’t look a lot different than the lunch one, but there was plenty to choose from. The pretty female staff were friendly and relaxed, never hurried or arrogant.
$58 pre-tip with three glasses of beer.
Food 8.2, service 8.6, ambience 7.2, value 8.5, peace and quiet 6.8.