Managers Juan Sanchez and Trey Covington sit with Cook Mario Ramirez and Waiter Mario Sanchez (left to right) at El Ranchito in Oak Cliff.
Managers Juan Sanchez and Trey Covington sit with Cook Mario Ramirez and Waiter Mario Sanchez (left to right) at El Ranchito in Oak Cliff.
Kathy Tran

Local 'Hoods, Global Fare: DFW's Best International Food Enclaves

Much of DFW's best international fare is located nowhere near the city center. In fact, the greatest immigrant cuisine is often found by traveling out to the suburbs where international enclaves create tiny villages rich with food, shopping and culture.

According to the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, 17.5 percent of DFW's population is foreign-born, with 63 percent of them from Latin America and 25 percent from Asia. Other nations drop off sharply after that — Africa is home base for about 6 percent of foreign-born residents, while 4.5 percent hail from Europe — which explains why Dallas has such a rich tapestry of Asian and Latin American cuisine.

But that's not all that's out there. Even beyond the international enclaves chronicled in this list, you'll find smaller neighborhoods like Little Pakistan in Carrollton or Irving's Belt Line Road, an incredible mash-up of food from countries such as Peru, Nepal, Cameroon and Japan.

In a city like Dallas, it can be easy to dine and shop and play without hardly ever leaving our own neighborhoods. But to ignore the areas surrounding Dallas proper would be shortsighted — there's so much to see and taste, and most of it is only a 30-minute car ride away.

With that in mind, we created this beginner's guide to DFW's most vibrant international enclaves, neighborhoods where you can learn so much about other cultures without ever leaving North Texas. Pack some cash and a pair of comfortable shoes and get to know a whole other side of DFW.

The vegetarian platter at Desta.
The vegetarian platter at Desta.
Kathy Tran

Out of Africa — Some like it hot. They should try Ethiopian food.

Scattered in the area of Greenville Avenue and LBJ Freeway — with a few options trickling up into Richardson — this corridor of Dallas features low-key strip mall spots that serve up phenomenal Ethiopian fare. After a bloody military coup in Ethiopia in the mid-'70s, many Ethiopians fled to neighboring countries before making their way to the United States.

Religious groups in the U.S. helped resettle refugees, and that was particularly true of Catholic charities in Dallas, which explains why DFW has such a robust East African enclave with successful restaurants that draw both East African families and curious American eaters.

The first thing Americans will tend to notice about Ethiopian fare is the lack of silverware (which most DFW restaurants will supply you with if you ask nicely, but you really don't need it). Many cornerstone Ethiopian dishes are eaten with your hands using injera, a spongy flatbread with a mesmerizing texture and a mild flavor.

If you have a hard time with heat, pay attention when the menu says "spicy," as some of these dishes aren't messing around. Once you try a couple spots and get to know the lingo, you'll fall head over heels for this vibrant, flavorful fare that often features great vegetarian options and incredible spice blends. Beth Rankin

Desta
A great spot for those who are new to Ethiopian fare, Desta is a comfortable modern spot with a detailed menu and a bar stocked with beer, just in case your kitfo proves too spicy. The vegetarian combo — lentils, collard greens, cabbage and other veggies — is particularly popular here, and if you dig spicy, go for the doro wat. This traditional dish features a moist, juicy, slow-cooked chicken leg swimming in hot sauce and spiced butter. It's served with a boiled egg and ayeb, a creamy white cheese that cuts through the spice. (12101 Greenville Ave.)

Sheba's Ethiopian Kitchen
A few blocks from Desta lies Sheba, a restaurant that many Ethiopian food lovers swear is the best in DFW. They serve breakfast along with lunch and dinner and have a solid vegetarian platter. Be adventurous and try the kitfo, made with minced raw beef seasoned with mitmita (a spice blend) and kibbeh (spiced clarified butter) and served with gomen (collards) and iab (fresh cheese). You can also order kitfo cooked, but where's the fun in that? (8989 Forest Lane)

City Cafe & Bakery
A few doors down from Desta, City Cafe & Bakery has an innocuous name but is a popular gathering spot for coffee and desserts both Ethiopian and American. This cozy spot serves traditional breakfast and lunch dishes along with sandwiches and desserts ranging from baklava to cheesecake. If you dig samosas, try the sambusa, a vegetable pastry filled with lentil, onion and jalapeño. (12101 Greenville Ave.)

Cabrito a la Parrilla (grilled goat) at El Ranchito.
Cabrito a la Parrilla (grilled goat) at El Ranchito.
Kathy Tran

The Latin Heart — Jefferson Boulevard is the center of Latino culture in Dallas. For now, anyway.

For as long as Rafael Tamayo can remember — and even well beyond his own limited memory — Jefferson Boulevard has always been a special place for the Texas Hispanic community.

"It's always been an epicenter of Hispanic culture," says Tamayo, manager of the Oak Cliff Cultural Center. "Growing up, for me ... if it was a big event, you went to Oak Cliff to get what you needed."

Jefferson Boulevard, with its dozens of quinceañera dress shops, quirky dollar stores and endless taquerias, is indeed a special place in Dallas, and has been since the 1920s. If it feels almost downtown-esque with its block after block of businesses, that's because, at one time, it was Oak Cliff's downtown, its Main Street, Tamayo says. Oak Cliff has changed dramatically over the years — particularly in the last several — but Jefferson Boulevard's importance, particularly to the Hispanic community, has never wavered. Families from across Texas come to the neighborhood to purchase items for life's most important celebrations, especially quinceañeras and weddings.

"That's been its identity for a long time," Tamayo says.

But things are changing. As in the nearby Bishop Arts District, investors are buying buildings and, in some cases, whole city blocks. Earlier this week, the Oak Cliff Advocate reported that investors bought four adjacent buildings, one of which houses the long-standing Top 10 Records. Investors say they're planning, for now, to keep the record store as a tenant, but they make no qualms about their plans to renovate the buildings and bring in new tenants.

There's no doubt that Jefferson's current atmosphere is endangered. A piece in last week's Advocate lamented the changes that will soon reshape the neighborhood.

"Preservationists are aware that Jefferson could be in danger of losing some of its history," Rachel Stone writes. "Rezoning in 2014 allowed for buildings as high as 20 stories on some parts of the boulevard. A few buildings are protected from demolition, but by and large, when old buildings are sold off, they could be replaced with new mixed-use buildings between three and 20 stories."

As newer buildings come in, older tenants are likely to be pushed out. And that means the classic gentrification model could whitewash much of the neighborhood's deeply rooted Hispanic culture.

But not every change on the boulevard is a bad one. In recent years, trendier, youthful spots like Small Brewpub, Carnival Barker's Ice Creams and Cultivar Coffee have set up shop on Jefferson, and they've brought new crowds to the neighborhood while integrating into the street's dynamics.

"It's definitely upped its cool factor," Tamayo says of the neighborhood now. "I think it's nice to see the embracing of what Jefferson is and always was. It's not a takeover."

To lose the Jefferson that is would be a shame in part because it's one of Dallas' greatest — and most underrated — food neighborhoods.

Taquerias, dulcerias, grocery stores, fruterias — on every block, you can taste Jefferson's history. If you're new to this neighborhood, which lies only a few walkable blocks from Bishop Arts, there are a few places you might want to start with. Bring cash, throw plans out the window and enjoy the ride. Beth Rankin

El Ranchito
A cornerstone of the neighborhood's food scene, El Ranchito was opened in 1983 by the same family behind La Calle Doce, another neighborhood spot that still specializes in comforting Mexican seafood dishes. The celebratory atmosphere filled with old photos and colorful decorations is made even more jovial by daily appearances from mariachi bands, along with the incredible aromas that waft from this kitchen. Expect a line if you go during peak hours, and don't skip the cabrito, a tender, juicy goat dish that will change your expectations of this barnyard animal. (610 W. Jefferson Blvd.)

Mesa
If Jefferson's choices overwhelm you — and you're in the mood to drop a few bucks — start at Mesa, a romantic upscale restaurant that specializes in Mexican coastal cuisine. The elegant reclaimed wood interior flickers in the candlelight, and the mezcal margarita will make you never want a boring old tequila-rita ever again. Try the sweet, fragrant mole or treat yourself to the lobster enchiladas. (118 W. Jefferson Blvd.)

El Padrino
Nestled among the towering historic buildings, this adorable little spot splashed in blue and orange and yellow is a sweet little hidey-hole filled with homey Mexican fare. When you walk in, the grill is the first thing you'll spot at this teeny-tiny place. Soup simmers on a burner while rows of tomatoes roast on the stove, the bright red orbs lending a sweet smell to an already aromatic room. Whether it's chorizo breakfast tacos, a quick lunch torta or a hot bowl of caldo de res on a frigid winter day, El Padrino offers a beautifully inexpensive dose of comfort. (408 W. Jefferson Blvd.)

Neveria & Paleteria La Mexicana
One of the best things about Jefferson Boulevard is that you can try so many places in one day — a taco here, a torta there, a paleta as you stroll off all the barbacoa you just inhaled. After you've wandered the street, taking in the endless array of colorful, sparkling gowns and quirky dollar stores filled with fun trinkets, end the day with a treat from this vibrant spot. Rows and rows of freezers are filled with snacks and desserts both American and Mexican, from fruit cocktails to chicharrones to aguas frescas and churros. (203 W. Jefferson Blvd.)

Dolsot Bibimbab (mixed vegetables with marinated rib eye slices and an egg yolk on top of white rice in hot stone bowl) and banchan (side dishes) at Koryo Kalbi.
Dolsot Bibimbab (mixed vegetables with marinated rib eye slices and an egg yolk on top of white rice in hot stone bowl) and banchan (side dishes) at Koryo Kalbi.
Kathy Tran

The Korean Granddaddy — The heart of North Texas' large Korean community thrives in the midst of a revival.

From Harry Hines Boulevard to the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, Royal Lane looks a little different from the average Dallas cityscape. Not to say that the acres of current and former warehouses, strip malls, railroad tracks and the odd gentleman's club is especially pretty; quite the opposite. But the signage is almost all in Korean, and the businesses along Royal are testament to a thriving Korean-American community.

Clubs like Mac Karaoke have co-opted old warehouse space, making the long, unsightly concrete buildings into improbable centers of Dallas nightlife. A number of banks, like the impressive, newly constructed Shinhan, cater to the area's Asian immigrants. Bath houses and day spas are tucked in between the auto repair shops.

2010 census data suggest there are about 28,600 Korean-Americans living in Dallas, Denton, Collin, Tarrant and Rockwall counties. But the census tally excludes mixed-race residents and those who chose "other." The Republic of Korea Consular Office in Dallas claims that the north Texas region boasts at least 75,000 Korean-Americans, perhaps as many as 100,000.

Consul Dong Gyu Lee explains that Koreatown began over 50 years ago and is still growing, thanks to Dallas' healthy economy, comparatively low cost of living and crime rate. "A recent trend," he says, "is that those who already immigrated and settled in California, New York, Chicago and Atlanta are also moving into Dallas." Samsung, LG and Hyundai Merchant Marine have offices in the area.

One thing they're very keen to do, along Royal Lane, is eat.

An unscientific Observer tally, using Google and Yelp data, suggests that this neighborhood has between 25 and 30 Korean restaurants, cafes, sports bars, takeout counters and karaoke clubs — all in the span of a single mile.

To fully explore this neighborhood can take months, even years; just ask the Observer's food writers. But a bounty of extraordinary food awaits: grilled-at-the-table barbecue, cold noodles tossed in spicy chili sauce, enormous soups meant for sharing, rich simmered-all-day meat broths, sushi, kimchi, macarons, dumplings and extraordinary fried chicken.

One big feature of Koreatown is well-known among Dallas' professional chefs and veteran clubbers: Many of its restaurants are open late. Dal Dong Nae is open until 2 a.m. every night except Monday; DanSungSa and Yun Tan Gil are open until 2 a.m. seven nights a week; and San Jang one-ups nearly the entire city with its official hours of 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.

This neighborhood has a past reputation for seediness and crime, part of the reason why many Korean-Americans moved north to the "New" Koreatown in Carrollton. But new developments are finally on the horizon, and young entrepreneurs are opening businesses like 9 Rabbits Bakery & Boba House. The Korean American Professional Network encourages entrepreneurship, organizing classes and networking events for that new generation. Lee, the Korean consul, explains that the first generation of immigrants operates many of the restaurants — memorably, "doughnut shops in Dallas are 99 percent owned by Koreans" — while the second generation moves into "real estate development, law firms and accounting." Old Koreatown is a neighborhood on the rise. Brian Reinhart

Ajumma Kimbob Deli
Jjol myeon, thick cold noodles tossed in a spicy red chili sauce, is a guaranteed winner here — or be daring and go with the house specialty blood sausage, available in an enormous soup or an even more enormous stir fry. Fresh kimbob, a variant on norimaki sushi, is available as a starter or to go. There's a location in the Carrollton Korean neighborhood, too. (2240 Royal Lane and 2625 Old Denton Road, Carrollton)

Dal Dong Nae
Family-style soups are a menu focus here, like budae jjigae, or "army stew," so-called because it was invented by mixing army-rationed food like hot dogs and Spam with red chili paste and kimchi. Served in a huge pan with a propane flame underneath to keep things hot, army stew is pure comfort on a winter's evening. Also perfect: Dal Dong Nae's fried fish and fully loaded seafood pancakes. (11445 Emerald St.)

Goji Cafe
Goji Cafe is casual, quiet, pan-Asian in its menu offerings — and all vegan. If you've been looking for vegan pho that doesn't suck, or fried rice and noodle dishes without dead animals in them, this is the spot for you. (2330 Royal Lane, No. 900)

Rice Chicken
Some of Dallas' best fried chicken is to be found in Koreatown, at DanSungSa and Number One Plus Chicken. But the spicy batter option at Rice Chicken beats them all, a fry with perfect crispness, ultra-juicy meat and just the right amount of heat. Rice Chicken doesn't really do side dishes, but the spicy bird is all you need. (2558 Royal Lane)

Sura Korean Bistro
Six words: "All You Can Eat Meat Buffet." Several more words: Sura is also notable for absurdly generous lunch box specials, featuring items like bulgogi and spicy marinated pork alongside crisp-fried dumplings, noodle salads and grilled onions. The banchan are especially good and numerous here, too. (2240 Royal Lane, No. 106)

Diners grill meat at their table at Gen BBQ in Carrollton’s Koreatown on Old Denton Road.
Diners grill meat at their table at Gen BBQ in Carrollton’s Koreatown on Old Denton Road.
Kathy Tran

A Young Korea Town Rival — A rival to Dallas' Korea Town sprouts in Carrollton, with a "Pan-Asian" flavor.

Up in Carrollton, near the intersection of Old Denton Road and the President George Bush Tollway, an even more unlikely pan-Asian enclave has appeared in the suburban highway-scape. Centered on two enormous grocery stores, the Carrollton district — mostly Korean, but with a healthy mix of other cultures — is one of the most exciting culinary neighborhoods in the suburbs.

Perhaps the most essential stops are the groceries, 99 Ranch Market and Super H Mart. Both offer Asian essentials, but with subtle differences in stock; 99 Ranch was founded by Taiwanese-Americans, while H Mart is a Korean-American chain with over 70 locations internationally. (Both chains have stores in Plano, as well.)

A morning shopping trip can be as crowded as Wal-Mart, and just as essential: from soba noodles to freshly made kimchi, from durian to chopstick sets, from tanks full of fresh lobsters to wines imported from China, these stores carry everyday staples and special-occasion splurges. Swing by the candy aisles, too.

But H Mart, which opened in 2008 and operates an 80,000-square-foot "super" version of its store here, was more than just a new grocery; it had a galvanizing influence on both the neighborhood and the Dallas-area Korean community.

"A lot of families and businesses have flocked to that area," says Ben Lee, one of the two brothers behind the popular LA Burger chain. "It has really grown in the last 10 years." Jon Lee agrees: After H Mart, Carrollton's Koreatown "went from a slow growth to an exponential growth."

The Lee brothers were lucky enough to obtain front row seats, opening an LA Burger across the street and serving their Korean fusion burgers and kimchi fries. Jon Lee explains, "The reason why we opened across the street from H Mart instead of inside H Mart is because back in 2012, when we did it, [non-Asian] people were hesitant to go inside H Mart. We were trying to act as the gateway Korean restaurant from the Wal-Mart shopping center to the H Mart center. I would talk to people in LA Burger on a daily basis who would ask, 'Oh, I love this kimchi, I love this bulgogi, I've never had it, where can I get more of it?' And I'd say, 'Oh, I'm glad you asked, you can go right across the street.'"

For an under-the-radar restaurant pick in this "new" Koreatown, the Lee brothers like Ddong Ggo. It offers, Jon Lee says, "more bar food than actual food," but the house specialty sounds like an alternate-universe American classic: ultra-spicy chicken covered in melting cheese.

Northern Carrollton is home to more global dining than the fare at Old Denton Road. Just a few blocks away, two rival specialty groceries, Indo-Pak and Al Markaz, offer foods from the Indian subcontinent alongside small shops offering kebabs and Indian desserts. A Vietnamese grocery, Carrollton Plaza Supermarket, is located nearby on Josey Lane, next to Hong Kong Royal, a solid if unspectacular dim sum place. It all adds up to a suburb as diverse and eclectic as its more famous neighbors to the east. Brian Reinhart

DanSungSa
This is an iconic, unmissable karaoke bar, but the bar food upholds a high standard. Grab a cheap pitcher of Coors Light, load up on some fried chicken and bulgogi quesadillas and start your vocal warm-ups. DanSungSa is open seven days a week, and 2 a.m. is the earliest it ever closes. There's another location at Interstate 35 and Royal Lane. (2540 Old Denton Road, No. 300)

Gangnam Sushi
Sushi restaurants don't get much swankier than Gangnam, which pays over-the-top tribute to its wealthy namesake neighborhood in Seoul. The food lives up to the billing, too, with creative, well-constructed specialty sushi rolls including, of course, one named after Psy's song. The Gangnam Style roll comes with crabmeat, shrimp, three kinds of fish and two kinds of fish roe. (2680 Old Denton Road)

H Mart food court
How could a food court be one of our favorite places to eat in metro Dallas? Find out by sampling the bounty at H Mart, which ranges from boba tea to barbecued meat, from sushi rolls to scallion pancakes. If you're still hungry after feasting at the cramped tables, you can always stop by the kimchi department for a free sample and the candy aisle for chocolate cookies dyed to look like cheeseburgers. (2625 Old Denton Road, No. 200)

Kula Revolving Sushi Bar
There are a lot of sushi spots in Dallas, but few are as economical, or as fun, as Kula. That's because this chain, which has another location in Plano, is a conveyor belt sushi bar. Place your orders for nigiri, miniature rolls and hand-rolled cones, then wait as they parade along the conveyor belt to your seat. Each plate is $2.25, which is good, since Kula has 75 to try. (2540 Old Denton Road, No. 40 and 104 Legacy Drive, No. 100, Plano)

LA Burger
It was inevitable that somebody would try making Korean burgers, but it wasn't inevitable that they'd be good. LA Burger will put kimchi on your patty, your fries or both, and the spicy crunch adds more than gimmickry to a darn good burger. There are tasty hot dogs, too.

Remember It. It's China Town. — High Tech and good schools draw a world of flavor to Richardson.

You can't talk about enclaves of ethnic food in Dallas-Fort Worth without thinking of Richardson. Where else will you get a strip mall called DFW China Town?

Near U.S. 75, East Main Street and North Greenville Avenue is an area filled with restaurants for lovers of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Turkish and Japanese foods, but the Chinese cuisine really prevails here, with plenty of Cantonese and Sichuan flavors to go around.

"A lot of that is due, I think, to the technology industries that are in Richardson," says Sue Walker, who is in retail consulting and worked with the Richardson Chamber of Commerce for 13 years, referring to Richardson's place in the IT and telecomm corridor. "You've had major employers that have influenced, I think, our dining habits, so to speak."

According to Johnnie Lee — who represents owner Felix Chen — DFW China Town was established in the late 1990s in Richardson for a fairly simple reason:

"The reason they tried to build the China Town is because of the schools. Back 30 years ago, you ought to go to school in Richardson," he says.

Today, Lee can easily rave about each of the restaurants in the area: He says "the people are crazy about their food" at Jeng Chi; the stand-alone Cantonese restaurant is a favorite to many; and the Chinese Community Center provides culture for those who want to gather and learn.

There was a mom-and-pop grocery store in this shopping center, but it has since closed. Good Fortune Supermarket is slotted to open in that space before Chinese New Year (Jan. 28). Taylor Danser

Canton Chinese Restaurant
If you're looking for your go-to dishes for takeout late at night, or you're searching for something new you've never tried, you'll be set with this large, multi-page menu. You have sections for different meats, including orange chicken, followed by "Authentic Chinese Dishes," which include pig intestine with preserved, sour cabbage. (400 N. Greenville Ave., Suite 25)

Jeng Chi Restaurant and Bakery
If you haven't yet headed to China Town, the steamed dumplings at Jeng Chi will get you there and make you want to return every weekend. It's been around long enough that the staff knows what it's doing. People know about Jeng Chi, and there's no denying it with the flavor of those dumplings. Yes, there are other items on the menu, but there's a strong possibility you could fill up on these pockets of comfort food. (400 N. Greenville Ave., No. 11)

Kirin Court
Kirin Court, also just south of China Town, is packed during lunch hour. After you find a spot in the crowded parking lot and climb the stairs up to the second story to find the restaurant, you enter a large, open space well-lit with fluorescent bulbs. This is not unlike a local dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong. The food might not amaze you, but the experience of selecting baskets of food off the rolling carts that go by is a great experience. (You do have to order separately xiao long bao, soup dumplings, but they are worth the wait.) (221 W. Polk St., Suite 200)

First Chinese BBQ
This local chain still feels under-the-radar, despite being the Observer's pick for Best Chinese Restaurant in 2010, 2011 and 2014. One step in the front door, though, and the display of gleaming roast ducks waiting to be ordered will have you convinced. (111 S. Greenville Ave., Richardson; 1927 E. Belt Line Road, No. 122, Carrollton; and 3405 W. Walnut St., Garland.)

First Emperor Chinese Restaurant
With a Taiwanese bent and specials like the incredibly crispy-crunchy tea-smoked duck, First Emperor is a solid alternative to Kirin Court, the dim sum institution across the street with lines snaking out the door at seemingly every mealtime. Plus, BYOB and Lazy Susans make First Emperor a great place to bring all your friends and all your beer. (200 W. Polk St., Suite A)

Istanbul Palace
This Turkish sports bar is a lively place during big European soccer matches, and it also makes pretty legit food, like pide, a Turkish sort of crisp-crusted pizza in which dough is shaped like a canoe and filled with cheese. A favorite pide topping: soujouk, or spicy link sausage. (800 W. Arapaho Road)

Royal Sichuan
Mapo tofu: the flamethrowing dish of tofu, bean paste, ground pork, chilis and numbing Sichuan peppercorns that has become a favorite of spice lovers everywhere. And no restaurant in Dallas makes it better than Royal Sichuan, a fixture of the China Town strip mall, whose parking lot doubles as a sculpture garden. (400 N. Greenville Ave., Suite 16A)

Sara's Market & Bakery
Sara's is one of the best places in DFW to shop for food and drink from the Middle East, North Africa and Persia, with half an aisle dedicated just to tea. Peruse the outstanding selection of cheeses, pick up some Moroccan sardines or try the subtle pastry desserts, like date cookies covered in sesames. (750 S. Sherman St.)

Com Bo Luc Lac or Shaken Beef Dish at Pho Bang in Garland.
Com Bo Luc Lac or Shaken Beef Dish at Pho Bang in Garland.
Kathy Tran

A Veitnamese Home — From pho to bánh mì to chicken feet, Garland brings an authentic taste of Southeast Asia.

If you're looking for Vietnamese food, you can stumble into almost any storefront on the north side of the intersection of North Jupiter Road and West Walnut Street in Garland. It's not so extreme that you'll feel like you're suddenly in Hanoi, by any means, but there's restaurant after restaurant serving the cuisine, and Vietnamese characters in neon fill windows of businesses such as insurance companies and immigration services. There are plenty of Chinese establishments, too, but it's clear there's a strong Vietnamese community here.

"Many Vietnamese people are living here; most of our customers are Vietnamese," says Thuy Nguyen, who has worked at Quoc Bao Bakery for about a year.

Duc Dong has watched the area change for the past 27 years. He opened My Tho on the northwest corner of this intersection in 1989, then later moved to the northeast side, where his small restaurant now stands among the rest of the establishments in the strip mall.

"There were not many [Vietnamese restaurants] here. The first four to five years, I was struggling," he says. "I just stay and tell my wife, 'You have to be patient. Our food is delicious.'" They stayed patient, and as their customer base — which is primarily Vietnamese — grew, so did the other Vietnamese establishments around them.

"I think way back when the owner of a restaurant called Arc-En-Ciel started his business right there, there are several schools right there, the housing at that area is very reasonable for the refugees to afford," says Jennifer Nguyen, Vietnamese liaison for the Garland Chamber of Commerce. "With that restaurant, then right next to it there used to be a very small grocery store. Everybody [went] to shop and eat there, then more small business, family-owned business felt that community getting a little bigger.

"I have friends all over North Texas. Every time we want to get together, I say, 'OK, come to Garland.' You have tons of small or big restaurants with different variety, so we don't need to go home, back to Vietnam. Everything is in one place." Taylor Danser

Biên Xanh
Looking to go out of your comfort zone? Try some grilled chicken feet or chicken gizzards. Or go for more traditional offerings like pho or bánh xèo. This latter one is a little harder to find on menus, featuring a crunchy Vietnamese pancake of rice batter (which can lose its crunchiness quickly, FYI) and comes topped with pork or shrimp, green onions and bean sprouts, and then folded. (3465 W. Walnut St. in Garland)

Dong Quê
There are so many places to get a steaming bowl of soup at this intersection, and Dong Quê is absolutely worth a visit. Walking up to the exterior, you can smell a hint of lemongrass and star anise. Then you open the door and your senses are slammed with burning incense. But once you open the other door beyond this vestibule, you're back to the aromas of Vietnamese cooking. This menu is large enough to find what you want, including hotpot, pho, vermicelli dry noodle (bún) and plates of noodles, rice and/or meat. You won't be disappointed with the large bowl of bún bò Hue, a spicy soup that gets its name from the town of Hue in central Vietnam. The noodles, which staff say are purchased dry at Truong Nguyên Market next door, have the right consistency (they don't obnoxiously stick together). The lemongrass broth is balanced with sour and sweet — though it could use the jalapeños that come on the side to elevate it to the perfect level of spice. (3555 W. Walnut St.)

Hiep Thái Food Store
If you've been to Asia and walked through a market or food store, you might be able to identify it with your eyes closed. This is not a bad thing. There is just a distinct smell of fresh fruit, live crustaceans and dried shrimp. And Hiep Thái is thankfully no different. Whole fish, fish heads, vermicelli, soup seasonings, jackfruit, lychee, persimmon, mangosteen, meats (the expected sirloin, pork chops), crabs, lobster and clams: You can seriously explore these aisles for a long time. Oh, and the lemongrass is larger and less expensive than places you can get it in Dallas, so there's that. (3347 W. Walnut St., Suite 101)

My Tho
One of the best parts of Vietnamese cuisine has to be the way coffee is served. After you try some, you truly can become addicted, especially when it's cut with sweetened condensed milk and poured over ice (café sua da). When you order this at My Tho, you won't be disappointed. But there's more to this place than beverages (thuc uong). The menu has staples such as pho, rice platters (com dia) and some incredible goi cuon. These spring rolls are simple, but utilize the freshness of herbs in a way that only Vietnamese cooking can. This menu also features Hu Tieu My Tho, a noodle soup named after the owner's hometown, My Tho, in southern Vietnam. (3325 W. Walnut St.)

Quoc Bao Bakery
Maybe it's the consistent use of fresh herbs, but the taste of Vietnamese cuisine can be described in one word: "beautiful." And foods such as bánh mì look it, too. There are 14 options for this sandwich, any of which are good to-go (which is how they're commonly consumed in Vietnam). Anyone can see the obvious French influence in this staple, and they're not messing around with the fresh bread at Quoc Bao. With enticing cuts of meat and the fresh crunch of vegetables, you can't go wrong for any meal of the day (especially when we're talking under $4 a pop). (3419 W. Walnut St.)

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