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More Than Just Pho: A Guide to Digging Deeper Into DFW's Vietnamese Food Scene

The baked whole catfish at Saigon Block is coated in Vietnamese spices that make for a memorable shared dish.
The baked whole catfish at Saigon Block is coated in Vietnamese spices that make for a memorable shared dish. Kathy Tran

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click to enlarge The chem chep xao at Phuong makes the drive to Haltom City so worth it. - KATHY TRAN
The chem chep xao at Phuong makes the drive to Haltom City so worth it.
Kathy Tran
Canh chua ca (sweet and sour fish soup), $13.75-$16.95 and chem chep xao (green curry mussels), $17.95
Phuong, 4045 E. Belknap, Haltom City
Phuong may be a little out of the way for some Dallas residents, but for two of the most deliciously unique and traditional dishes, there is no place better. It opened in 1993 and has run with the same menu since the start, and owner, operator and head chef Sung Truong is 78 years old and showing no signs of stopping. His claim to fame: the green mussels with lime leaf sauce, a type of Vietnamese green curry sautéed mussels (green-lipped mussels imported from New Zealand). which Sung says no one else in the United States does as well as him, and we're inclined to believe him. They are crazy delicious. Somewhere between a Thai green curry and an Indian lemongrass curry, they are saucy, garlicky, sweet, sour, spicy and huge. A large plate will set you back almost $18, but it's easily large enough to share with two or three. Family-style dining is much more common in Vietnamese culture, so buy a round of these green mussels (and a round of beer) for you and your friends.

Another must-try at Phuong is canh chua ca, a sweet and sour fish soup. When we hear of sweet and sour, we think of Chinese takeout's thick, syrupy soup that is so much sweeter than sour. With this dish, the sweet comes from pineapple and the sour from fish sauce and tamarind. It is much more balanced between sweet and sour and has a tangy, robust broth. It's a truly balanced dish that represents Vietnamese flavors in perfect harmony.

click to enlarge Pho Bang's shaking beef dish boasts a beautifully caramelized crust on the tender, juicy beef. - KATHY TRAN
Pho Bang's shaking beef dish boasts a beautifully caramelized crust on the tender, juicy beef.
Kathy Tran
Bo luc lac (shaking beef), $10
Pho Bang, 3565 W. Walnut St., Garland
Pho Bang certainly boasts a large selection of Vietnamese food, but when you’re craving beef, their bo luc lac cannot be beat. Originally a French-inspired dish typically only served at weddings (due to the historical cost of beef), the cubed steak dish is called "shaking beef" because of the constant shaking of the wok or sauté pan during cooking. Because the beef is cooked at such high temperatures, along with fragrant aromatics and a heavy handful of garlic, the outside sears and caramelizes to an intensely umami crust, and the inside stays soft and tender. It's served traditionally with white rice, red onion and watercress or arugula.

click to enlarge This rich, creamy dessert at Bistro B is a great late-night treat. - KATHY TRAN
This rich, creamy dessert at Bistro B is a great late-night treat.
Kathy Tran
Che ba mau (three color dessert), $3.99-$4.49
Bistro B, 9780 Walnut St.
Bistro B is like the IHOP of Vietnamese diners, and we mean that in the politest way. It's open until midnight on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends, and those in the know realize that Bistro B is the place to go after a late-night movie or a night at the bar. With fair prices and a crazy huge menu boasting more than 500 items, it has something for everyone.

While you’re looking over the colossal menu, be sure to order an appetizer of nem nuong ($6.49), the first item on the menu. Four Vietnamese spring rolls, each filled with grilled pork sausage, vegetable slaw and a fried crunch inside, help garner your appetite for the meal to come. Crispy, succulent and served with an orange sauce that is somewhere between a sweet and sour and a garlic fish sauce, it is a perfect amount to tantalize the taste buds while waiting for your main meal.

Likewise, if you’re looking for something sweet to end the meal, the selection of che ba mau (listed on the menu as Che 3 Mau), or three-color jelly dessert, is an experience in texture exploration. As is Bistro B tradition, the selection is of che ba mau is huge, but no matter what you go with, it will be sweet, creamy and rich with a selection of sweetened beans, jelly and seeds. It looks like a Pollock painting and tastes like one, too.

click to enlarge Quoc Bao Bakery makes some of the best banh mi in DFW. - KATHY TRAN
Quoc Bao Bakery makes some of the best banh mi in DFW.
Kathy Tran
Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), $3-$3.75
Quoc Bao Bakery, 3419 W. Walnut St., Garland
Quoc Bao Bakery does bread right. The key to an ideal bahn mi is the French bread's rich, golden crust that cracks all over. The outside is crispy but, when lightly squished, produces a carbohydrate symphony. The inside is tender and grips sauces and spreads with ease. Real bahn mi experts also add that the "shoe" of the bread (or the pointed end) will be extra chewy for that last-bite experience. In all of these regards, experts and novices alike will find that Quoc Bao does bahn mi perfectly. The odor of fresh-baked bread coats the entire shop (as well as the parking lot and nearby neighborhoods), and the prices sweeten the deal even further. Starting at only $3 for the meatball sub and only going up another 75 cents for the most expensive grilled chicken and meatball sub, the sandwiches are meant to be purchased en masse. Deliciously charred meat, fresh vegetable slaw, Vietnamese mayo and pork pate work perfectly in sync with one another. It makes sense that Quoc Bao has a buy three, get one free deal; you can easily demolish a quarter-dozen before the next batch of bread has time to rise.
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Daniel Rockey
Kathy Tran
Contact: Kathy Tran