The holidays wreaked havoc on my dining schedule these last few weeks, so today's post is going to be a tad shorter. Gathering backup participants for fulfilling my cravings in faraway lands like Garland or Carrollton proved rather difficult. Reactions from my family and friends ranged from annoyed eye rolls to, "Seriously? Are you still writing about pho?! Do we have to do this now?"
So I found myself in a familiar bind last week: I didn't know where to have lunch.
Believe it or not, I actually get tired of food because I really do eat THAT much. I've heard from various people in my life that it is intimidating to go to a restaurant with me because I tend to be a bit...discerning. I wouldn't say that I'm picky or overly critical, but I do get depressed thinking about the wasted calories when a meal has disappointed.
In picking the absolutely perfect lunch spot, I go through some serious cataloging before I arrive at a decision. This process can take place anywhere and look to the outside observer as absent-minded wandering.
As I drove circles around my neighborhood deciding on a cuisine, my long suffering boyfriend sat in the passenger seat, putting to practice his new year's resolution of patience. Thinking about pizza led me to Italian. Thinking about Italian led me to Jimmy's Food Store. Thinking of Jimmy's Food Store pulled up an image in my brain of a restaurant only a few blocks from Jimmy's that I've driven by numerous times, but into which I never ventured. Seeing as how the restaurant is a Vietnamese establishment, I was delighted with myself that I'd not only found the perfect lunch spot, but I'd found my next blog topic, as well.
My boyfriend was delighted that he'd finally get to eat.
What caught my attention the first time I drove by Vietnam Restaurant on Bryan Street was its blaring sign. I had to admire it; No "lemongrass," or "papayas," or any elegant French Indochinese name. It just reads "Vietnam," and in the middle of east Dallas, to boot. The second thing that caught my attention, and what ultimately made me decide to take a pass on the restaurant, was a sign underneath the restaurant's name which read, "Lunch Buffet."
Visions of wilted faux Chinese food under heat lamps appeared in my head.
Later, I learned from the always helpful, but not always reliable, internet that Vietnam Restaurant has quite the following. I had tried Mai's, Vietnam's competition from down the street, a few months prior and was sorely disappointed. I've long given up on finding the perfect Vietnamese restaurant in Dallas proper. But since I give every taco stand and burger joint a try before I form my opinions, why should I be any different when it comes to Vietnamese food?
Finally walking in to Vietnam, I was surprised by two things; how spacious the interior of the restaurant is, and how big the lunch crowd gets. The restaurant staff is clearly made up of family members who frantically speak Vietnamese to one another while dealing with lunch mobs in a chaotic ballet that one can only witness in an Asian restaurant. I felt right at home.
Taking a cue from the long line at the buffet, I decided to opt for the main attraction. My boyfriend, being more thoughtful to my blog-writing duties than I, ordered the Pho Tai Bo Vien, pho with eye round steak and meatballs.
The Ly family has owned and operated Vietnam Restaurant for the past thirteen years. Even though the family does not live in the same neighborhood, the restaurant has stayed put, despite its less than glamorous location. As Lee, the manager of Vietnam, explained, the restaurant actually thrives due to its proximity to downtown businesses, nearby courthouses and hospitals. The restaurant also draws in a swarm of hungry Uptown residents who crave a Vietnamese fix but who don't want to pay the Uptown prices.
I'll be honest: It's difficult for me to write critically of a family owned business, seeing as how it parallels to my own background. Despite what some comments have suggested, I don't delight in my own snobbery or take pleasure in criticizing what others may like.
That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the buffet offerings, but dismayed with some of the others. I was happy to see that there were actual Vietnamese offerings in the buffet, such as grilled pork chops, pork meatball soup, and Goi Tom Thit (Vietnamese shrimp and pork salad). However, the execution of each item was inconsistent, the pork meatball soup being the best of the three.
When the pho arrived at our table, it wasn't hard to detect what I would dislike about it. Yes, it's gotten to the point that I've become some kind of pho testing robot. In my defense, I didn't, and don't really ever, set out to look for a problem in every bowl of pho. Yet from across the table where my boyfriend and the bowl of pho sat, an overwhelming waft of star anise assualted my nasal passages. Simply put, the spicing killed the pho.
Fans of Vietnam Restaurant might be drawn to the feeling of having a little piece of authenticity in their backyard. Who can blame them? To the restaurant's credit, they seem to strive to deliver that authenticity, even going so far as to having herbs and spices brought back from Vietnam four times a year by family members.
Lee tells me that even travelers from out of town have visited the restaurant, heeding the advice of avid fans.
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Proximity dictates that I will probably return, but I don't think I will ever join the enthusiasts.
I suppose its promising that Vietnam Restaurant has brought together a mix of diners, from older professionals to young Asians, and from artist types to doctors and lawyers. Although, I'm encouraged that there is such a desire for Vietnamese food in Dallas, my hope is that Asian cuisine doesn't remain stagnant in our city. For every thirteen years that a Vietnam comes around, hundreds of Tex-Mex restaurants will open and shut their doors. For every thirteen years, a Dean Fearing or a Stephan Pyles will win national awards for some revolutionary dish. Meanwhile Dallasites will likely never know the range of Malaysian, Filipino, or Taiwanese cuisine.
Now that I think about it, with my options always being so limited, it's no wonder I tire of food so easily.
4302 Bryan St