Eating at a Vietnamese restaurant is easy, right? Grab a couple spring rolls and a giant bowl of beef pho and you’re good. But some of Dallas’ best Vietnamese places, like Mot Hai Ba and Bistro B, challenge visitors to think outside the bowl and try something new. It’s time to add 45 Mint Vietnamese Bistro to that list.
45 Mint, at Preston and Belt Line roads, is a quiet place with elegant decorations but main courses that stay below the $10 mark. Our waitress tells us they hope to start selling alcohol soon, but in the meantime, they are BYOB. You can walk right around the side of the building to a new Trader Joe’s for some beers or Two-Buck Chuck.
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The house specialty is caramelized meat in clay pots. Available with pork belly, catfish or chicken, the clay pots arrive sizzling hot, lid still on, sauce bubbling inside. That sauce combines some of your favorite Vietnamese flavors: sweet/salty caramel glaze, sesame, fish sauce, green onions, a dab of chili. Whichever meat you order, you’ll be left piling the rice into your pot, sopping up as much sauce as possible. The catfish is so tender it falls apart with one prod of the chopsticks, but our favorite version features pork belly, because good things happen when you caramelize a meat with such big layers of fat.
There’s plenty else to like about 45 Mint, too. The clay pots come with a side of vegetables that are doused with a joyous amount of garlic. (Sadly, 45 Mint is also Bring Your Own Very Strong Mints.) A waiter-recommended shrimp lemongrass vermicelli turned out to be a heaping, tasty noodle bowl, with a huge side bowl of chili sauce. Shrimp spring rolls come studded with mint leaves, but don’t be like the elderly white couple next to us on our second visit, who tried eating them with fork and knife. Heck, even the calamari, in tempura batter and looking kinda like onion rings, is well above average.
So next time you’re in the mood for Vietnamese food, consider skipping your usual banh mi. Because if there’s one foreign food we Texans need to fall in love with, it’s a sizzling hot slab of meat with some chili and rice.