Chilled to Go: Vietnamese Iced Coffee Revs You Up With Perfect Sweetness

Ca phe sua da from Quoc Bao Bakery
Ca phe sua da from Quoc Bao Bakery Taylor Adams
For July and August, we're bringing Chilled to Go: weekly posts on the best things you can get for takeout to beat the heat. 

Some hot summer days, something simply cold won’t do it.

Caffeine is needed. Serious, maybe slightly bitter caffeine. Plus sugar, because when coffee is quite bitter, it could use the sweetness.

I won’t forget the first time I had, and fell in love with, Vietnamese iced coffee. Years ago, I was sitting in a shop in Hue, Vietnam, where someone was explaining to me how this is a time to slow down, maybe read the paper and enjoy — savor — the coffee.

“You want it with milk,” he said.

“No, thanks,” my naive self answered. I always drink my coffee black.

I took a sip after it arrived.

He was right.

He was prepared, already having a setup ready for the coffee to pour into a glass that held a few tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk. After it steeped and fell on top of the milk, it was stirred and poured over ice.

Ca phe sua da is the sweet and rich beverage we all need more of — pandemic or otherwise, hot or cold outside.

click to enlarge A smart nephew finds his own love of coffee at Sandwich Hag, back in the days when we could dine on the patio there. - TAYLOR ADAMS
A smart nephew finds his own love of coffee at Sandwich Hag, back in the days when we could dine on the patio there.
Taylor Adams
There are plenty of places to get it in Dallas — I’ll surely grab a cup when I get a bánh mì during my next visit at Sandwich Hag (1902 S Lamar St. in the Cedars).

"Vietnamese coffee itself is a staple for Vietnamese people, especially older. It was so strong as a kid, I didn’t drink it," Sandwich Hag owner Reyna Duong says. "It's also a big part of socializing, too, like coffee shops especially.

"Part of the strength is the slow drip process also, and it's very concentrated where there's not a lot of water. It's funny because people that aren’t familiar, they don't realize its basically a shot."

The ice helps dilute it, and the milk helps, too, of course.

We recently wrote about how fantastic Lá Me (9780 Walnut St., Suite 140 in Northeast Dallas) is for takeout; and while you wait on your food, you can't miss the coffee there.

Another one of the best restaurants in town also happens to have a lovely ca phe sua da, too: Quoc Bao Bakery (3419 W. Walnut St. in Garland). It comes out in what seems like a few seconds, ice packed to the top of a 16-ounce plastic cup.

Trying to take your time drinking it can be a challenge. Though this one leans a little sweeter, it comes off balanced and just the thing you need to perk up and feel happier in an afternoon.

Quoc Bao has fantastic baguettes, “which are practically cubist in their crispy-rusted flakiness,” as critic Brian Reinhart writes.

click to enlarge Banh mi from Quoc Bao - TAYLOR ADAMS
Banh mi from Quoc Bao
Taylor Adams
And speaking of that bread, you might as well get some in the form of a bánh mì, which is some of the best you can find in town. You have to spend at least $5 if you’re paying by card, so you might as well get a meal when you go in for coffee (that total will be less than $8, by the way).

This little shop in Garland may be a drive for you, but it’s worth it because it’s fantastic and because we need to keep supporting the places that make Dallas and the surrounding cities so great.

Plus, you can sip that coffee on the way home.
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. Now the Observer's food editor, she attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.