Good to Go is a column where our food writers explore Dallas’ restaurant scene through takeout orders, delivery boxes and reheated leftovers.
Bánh xèo can be an incredibly satisfying dish. The crispy rice pancake that’s stuffed with bean sprouts and frequently shrimp can be messy when you wrap it with herbs and dip it in nuoc cham, and it’s totally worth it.
Only thing is, it’s not exactly great at every place offering it — the flavor can be good, but it can also be nearly soggy. Thus began the hunt for crispy bánh xèo.
The first stop proved to be a good use of time — and that was a lot from Dallas to Arlington — and came from a comment in an Instagram post.
Thùy Nguyên Cafe is a lovely spot, just off East Pioneer Parkway. Sitting in a strip mall, the restaurant is open for limited dine-in service now, but it’s still doing takeout, and the crispiness of the banh xèo holds up.
The front-and-back, laminated menu has much of what you could be looking for, including a decent bún bò Hue (spicy beef and noodles soup), which is absolutely worth ordering. You can call ahead to order here, but if you order food at the counter, you can also get cafe sua dá. The iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk is the perfect drink to wait with.
Maybe for another time, I have a story about how a woman named Tuoi had me making 15 bánh xèo in her home in Ben Tre, Vietnam. But for now, I’ll say the sound of this rice pancake being prepared sang from the back of the kitchen to the ordering counter. From that very moment of hearing the heat causing the batter to sizzle, I knew this was what I’d been craving.
After I finished half of the plastic cup of iced coffee, the order — which did include bún bò, too — was ready. Then I did what I always do when wanting to preserve the integrity of takeout food: find the closest place to eat it. I relied on Google to find a nearby park in Arlington.
There’s one not far with no seating except for large rocks/small boulders. They make for a fine place to set down takeout food and take in the sunshine from the shade of a tree.
The Styrofoam container with the bánh xèo was paired with a plastic bag full of herbs. Opening up the box with anticipation, I found the round pancake shining in the sun, its crisp exterior still far away from any sign of sogginess.
It gently snapped when broken apart, pink shrimp clinging to the cooked dough with bean sprouts underneath. Plentiful greens were available — lettuce for crunch, basil for herbaceous flavor. Breaking the piece of bánh xèo, wrapping it in greens and dipping it in the sauce was glorious. Even though it was insanely windy, the bánh xèo was perfectly crispy, and everything seemed right in the world.
It’s worth the drive to Arlington from East Dallas, but this dish is worth the miles in any direction. If you have favorite versions of this dish, send them our way.
Thùy Nguyên Cafe, 100 W Pioneer Parkway, Suite 100B, Arlington. Open 7 a.m. to midnight daily.