Vietnamese food has gotten a little one-sided in Dallas. In a dining landscape where pho reigns king and champion of Vietnamese fare, the real-deal dishes simmer on the back burner of our attention. It's time to explore outside of the pho bowl. This list showcases some of the best non-pho Vietnamese dishes in Dallas — rich soups, savory meats and curious creations that give a broader taste of Vietnamese cuisine.
Tony’s Crawfish, 3347 Belt Line Road, Garland
Banh cuon is a dish that pulls from many different elements of Vietnamese cuisine, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves. Northern styled chargrilled pork, southern Vietnamese vegetable slaw, coastal coconut fish sauce and a housemade Hanoi rice paper make up the dish, but when brought together, they create an explosion of flavors and textures. The chewy rice paper is blanketed around the chopped and charred meat, and the folds and crevices hold onto the fish sauce, which the owner makes with her secret ingredient: coconut water. It's served with a vegetable slaw mix and a fried shrimp cake.
Pho Tay Do, 1403 E. Campbell Road, Richardson
Vietnamese soup culture is huge, and bun bo hue often gets the short end of the stick — even though we think it’s better than pho in every way. It's a bold statement for sure, but hear us out: From Hue in central Vietnam, the soup has elements of northern and southern cooking, which make it appealing to everyone. If you’re in the mood to get a little adventurous with your soup game, Pho Tay Do is the place to go.
Served as tradition dictates, the bowl of broth arrives screaming hot in a vessel with the diameter of a basketball. (We aren’t kidding; we measured.) Shredded red cabbage, basil and sliced lime stare up from the rich, red broth, with the occasional iceberg of brisket, beef and sausage breaking the surface. Droplets of chili and spiced oils dot the top, giving a good inclination of the heat to come. The flavor is rich like a stew but with a thin consistency. It isn’t as salty as many pho, but it doesn’t need to be; it reaches flavor nirvana without piling on the sodium. It's fresh as can be, with the owner’s watchful eye picking the ingredients that day, and everything but the thick hue noodles are made fresh in house. Next time you’re in the mood for pho, try to remember its better younger brother, bun bo hue, which is balanced between spicy and savory.
La Xanh, 3575 W. Walnut St., Garland
Somewhere between a crepe, an omelet and a dosa, banh xeo is an oily, gigantic, delicious fold-over of homestyle Vietnamese comfort. It’s really a pan-fried rice flour crepe stuffed with a variety of Vietnamese goodies — shredded pork and brisket, bean sprouts, shrimp and green onion — that’s folded over to make a flavor explosion. The outside is crispy and oily like the fried edges of an egg, and the inside is soft and chewy like a freshly steamed crepe. This elegant little appetizer will have you reaching for the fish sauce.
La Xanh, 3575 W. Walnut St., Garland
The banh kep, on the other hand, is a sweet starter or dessert that questions your perception of taste. Also known as a pandan waffle, it’s made with screw pine (or pandan) leaves, which imbue the waffle with a unique flavor and a bright green color. Some say it tastes like coconut, others claim it’s a vanilla substitute and some even insist on licorice notes. Regardless of what it actually tastes like, it's undisputedly delicious. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, it’s the most unusual waffle we’ve ever had.
Mot Hai Ba, 6047 Lewis St.
High-end Vietnamese cuisine is a niche market, and chef Peja at Mot Hai Ba has it cornered. A Serbian chef making Vietnamese food like it was his first language, he serves an elegant take on some of the classics. While some may not immediately associate curry with Vietnamese food, green curry chicken is an herbaceous classic that redefines the geographic idea of curry.
More than a dozen toasted spices (bay leaf, cardamom, kaffir lime, star anise, coriander, Thai chili, cinnamon, lime zest, cassia bark, cloves and Szechuan peppercorns) make the incredibly pungent base where coconut milk and cilantro leaf live. It is a luxuriously thick base, topped with seasoned vegetables, for the simple seared airline chicken breast. While the plate may look like a chicken dish at first, don’t let it fool you; the real MVP of this dish is the sauce. Every bite is forced into it with the plunge of a chopstick, and as it enters your mouth, a cacophony of aroma turns into a concert of flavor.
Saigon Block, 2150 E. Arapaho Road, Richardson
Don’t let the price fool you: This catfish is worth every penny. It's covered in a selection of special Vietnamese spices and baked whole, and the flavor is out-of-this-world delicious. It has crispy skin that is closer to fried chicken skin and a soft, delicate, flavorful meat that you and your friends and family can pick clean. It is served with rice paper wrappers and the standard spring roll filling of herbs and vegetables. It’s no wonder owner Dan Banh states the restaurant sells more than 40 whole catfish on a normal day and up to 100 on a busy day. The medium catfish is large enough to fill at least 3 people to uncomfortably full, the large will have up to 5 people adjusting their belts and the extra-large can satisfy a small nation of up to 7. Just don’t forget the sides.