I have a simple, attainable New Year’s resolution for the year 2021: I want to eat every single thing on the menu at Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen.
Ngon, which opened on Greenville Avenue last summer and is pronounced “non,” is maybe the most exciting new restaurant to hit Dallas during the pandemic. It doesn’t aspire to high-end glamor; it just serves a wide range of traditional Vietnamese foods, executed perfectly.
Many of the greatest pleasures here are simple ones. Grilled meats, for example, taste like they came off a backyard charcoal grill seconds before hitting the plate. Produce is impeccable, important in a cuisine where many dishes come with bundles of whole, fresh herbs. Portions are generous.
Start with the spring rolls, and it’s easy to see what I mean. Ngon’s got a whole list of spring roll possibilities, filled with fresh veggie mixes instead of knotted vermicelli. I’ve come to love the “regular” spring rolls, which include shrimp and char siu pork ($7). Nestled under the meat, inside the leafy spring mix, is a tight coil of fried wrapper skins, which runs along the length of the roll for a surprise bit of crunch. There’s something wonderful about ordering a menu item called “regular” and getting a dish this good.
There are wilder, more creative possibilities, too: spring rolls with sauteed tofu, mushrooms and beets ($7), or beef and pineapple ($8), or imitation crab and cranberry, a combo I wasn’t brave enough to try ($7). The fried imperial rolls filled with real crab and shrimp, however, are terrific ($9 for three).
The bánh mì, too, keep it simple (all $8). Vietnam’s iconic sandwich is becoming one of Dallas’ own essential foods, with numerous bánh mì shops opening across the city in 2020, almost all of them excellent. The timing couldn’t be better, because pandemic quarantine has sent me racing to the comforts of a good, hearty sandwich. By my count, I’m averaging more than a bánh mì per month.
At Ngon, the very ends of the baguettes — the rounded last half-inch or so where filling doesn’t reach — are trimmed off. Each sandwich, except the vegetarian option, starts with layers of cold cuts and foie gras pate made in-house with cognac. Then there’s a big, hearty handful of pickled vegetables and a whole sprig of cilantro.
Each sandwich offers a different experience. The Saigon-style cold cut combo is the creamiest and wettest, since the pate and mayonnaise take charge. Order grilled pork or chicken, and that fresh chargrilled smokiness becomes the star attraction. The vegetarian choice is enjoyable, too, with sauteed mushrooms and tofu standing in for meat and the fat slices of jalapeno asserting themselves. (Diners who aren’t vegan would be wise to request some cooling mayo.)
My favorite dish of all, so far, is the bún cha Hanoi, a huge platter of noodles, chunky meatballs, squiggles of sliced pork belly, a sheaf of gorgeous fresh herbs and a sauce for dunking ($16). There’s a choose-your-own-adventure element to taking a bite — want to make a lettuce wrap? Put everything into a bowl? — but the part I want never to end is the fat, firm, rough-ground meatballs, as smokily fresh-grilled as the kebabs and bratwurst my father pulled off our backyard Weber.
I haven’t mentioned the biggest and most exciting menu section of all: the noodle soups, including not just pho but bún bò Hue and bánh canh, a tantalizing bowl of tapioca noodles in broth with king crab, shrimp and pork. I haven’t mentioned them because I haven’t ordered them yet. My house is a 20-minute drive from Ngon, and it didn’t feel fair to judge a restaurant’s noodle soups for review after they’d sat in plastic tubs for a half-hour.
But that omission just makes me excited to visit the restaurant in person, when it’s safer to do so. There’s a small patio area on the front sidewalk and a comfortable, welcoming interior with a small bar that prepares mostly sweet, fruit-focused cocktails. When I’m able to dine out again, I can’t wait to dig into a bowl of soup in one of Ngon’s booths.
I have more goals, too. There’s a sea bass collar grilled over the same coals that make all the other meats at Ngon so richly backyard-smoky. There’s shaking beef made with tenderloin, a salad bowl that comes with an entire 10-ounce steak on top and a range of Vietnamese curry bowls served with either rice or a big chunk of baguette. (Baguette, please.)
Ordering takeout from Ngon has been one of the great joys of my January. And the restaurant’s importance goes beyond its excellence. In a real estate market where many of Dallas’ most prestigious neighborhoods are filled with dull chains and soulless investor-led “concepts,” I have to root for any small, independently-owned business serving great food with little fuss. That’s especially true of a minority-owned business like Ngon (owner Carol Nguyen named the business after her mother, Ngôn), which serves a menu full of soups and noodle bowls that aren’t easy to find in central Dallas.
All the more reason to keep going back and trying every dish they’ve got. It’s the perfect resolution for 2021.
Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen, 1907 Greenville Ave. 469-250-7183, ngonvietkitchen.com. Open Sunday through Thursday 12 p.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 12 p.m.-10 p.m.
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