Pho is served at La Me, but not too many people seem to order it.
This restaurant, on the far northeastern edge of Dallas adjoining Richardson and Garland, is one of the most popular gathering places among Dallas County’s population of more than 26,000 Vietnamese-Americans. At mealtimes, La Me buzzes with energy. Walk in during lunch rush on Friday and a table for two might be impossible to find. Come for dinner and at least one table, if there’s one free, might be taken up by employees picking through enormous laundry baskets of fresh herbs and aromatics.
La Me serves a wide range of Vietnamese foods, from home-cooking to dishes commonly served at wedding feasts and other special occasions. For American diners who only know pho and banh mi, this diversity can be a revelation. That's especially true because the kitchen here, with its genius for great soup broths and its mastery of an enormous menu, is quite simply one of the best in Dallas.
Try my quang ($8), a bowl of wide rice noodles made bright yellow with the addition of turmeric to the dough. It’s a specialty of the Quang Nam province, served in a gently savory, meaty broth with pork, a few tail-on shrimp, dozens of chopped roasted peanuts and a slew of herb garnishes, from basil to chives. The shrimp are nicely cooked, the peanuts add bursts of texture to a flavorful broth and the bowl is generous enough for two meals, especially since it comes with an enormous sesame cracker on the side.
The soups at La Me can be a wonder, since nearly all of them start with their own broths. Bring your friends, order a whole table full of soups and dip a spoon into your neighbors’ bowls. That way you can compare the delicate, lightly sweet duck broth in the duck noodle soup (bun mang vit, $8) with the rich, deep, gently spicy taste of the thick rice noodle soup with shrimp and barbecued pork (banh canh tom thit, $7.50).
The duck soup is good, and the bone-in duck oh-so-tender and just the right amount of fatty, but that thick rice noodle soup’s broth is eye-popping. Less eye-popping are the thick rice noodles themselves, which have less substance and less give than you’d expect.
An order of the “house special” soup, my kho dac biet ($8), can actually be prepared with the broth served on the side. Try it that way. First take a few bites of the thin, kinky noodles and admire the bowl’s piece de resistance, a whole shell-on shrimp fried directly into a big, bubbly cracker. Some of Dallas’ most avant-garde restaurants could learn that trick and charge twice the price for it. And, yes, fried this crispy, the shell is perfectly edible.
Then add the broth. On its own, sitting in its side bowl, the broth is a transparent light yellow, mild but well-developed. Once in the bowl, it combines with the ground and grilled pork, crab claws, clams, scallions and noodles to develop into a rich brown, thicker and meatier, with a bit of sweetness from the grilled pork. It’s like a culinary magic trick.
Another dish that shows La Me at its formidable best is shaking beef, or bo luc lac ($10), the stir fry that is one of Vietnam’s national dishes. Here tender filet mignon is cubed and marinated in rice vinegar, soy sauce and fish sauce, then tossed into the wok and served on rice with scallions, red onions and greens on the side.
One comparative letdown is the bun bo hue ($8), the soup that’s often bright red from its sweet-sour-spicy broth. Here it comes with solid cubes of pig’s blood, coppery-tasting and with the texture of tofu. Spice fans will need to add a big squirt of chili sauce, though. The same general description also applies to bun rieu ($8), a variation with generous amounts of fried fish and shrimp.
Vermicelli bowls get a whole page on the menu; simply choose your favorite combination of toppings. The special is a marvelous mixture of gently sweet grilled pork, a couple of grilled shrimp, two small egg rolls, bean sprouts, pickled carrots, a handful of chopped peanuts and more vegetables besides ($9.50). It’s the ultimate power lunch.
This is a good time to point out that La Me’s egg rolls, ordered in a combination bowl or separately as an appetizer ($6 for five), are rather special. They’re small and generously filled, but the stars are the wrappers, folded into multiple layers each with their own texture, the interiors soft and doughy, the outside edges fried until crisp with airy bubbles. These egg rolls taste like a wave of nostalgia, like your memory of how egg rolls tasted when you were a kid.
As for spring rolls, why not make your own? The “Tiny Rice Stick” menu page is meant for do-it-yourself types; each brings one or two fillings, a huge platter of veggies and herbs and a stack of rice paper wrappers. The name refers to the tiny rice noodles you can use to fill out your roll. On the grand combination plate ($9.50) a particular favorite filling was the sausage patties made from shrimp; there are whole shrimp, too, with intense scorch marks from a quick visit to the grill.
Quarters at La Me are tight, but not cramped. Service is efficient – by the way, Yelper comments that the staff don't speak English are dead wrong – and food often arrives impressively fast. Just remember to pay at the counter when you’re done.
La Me boasts consistently terrific execution and a mind-bogglingly huge menu. There are whole categories of food which this review doesn’t have space to cover, like the restaurant’s porridge bowls or its seafood fried rice with shrimp, cuttlefish and scallops, or dishes that reveal the influence of Chinese cuisine. There’s even pho, if you can bring yourself to order it.
La Me, 9780 Walnut St., #140. 972-669-8515. 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday-Tuesday.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.