Vietnamese restaurant guide
When the French controlled Vietnam, baguettes crossed cultures, and one of the finest results of this is the banh mi sandwich. They’re plentiful in this area, but this bakery creates most of the bread restaurants use, so go try the source, a cute and colorful counter-service spot with stimulation galore. Jump in line for the barbecue pork or the Ba Le special, which piles housemade pâté, headcheese and pork onto a baguette with tangy carrot and daikon slivers, cilantro and jalapeño. Grab a coconut custard (served in an actual coconut!) for an interesting ending.
Arguments for getting your Vietnamese fix here instead of on Argyle: (1) The space is stunning, with chandeliers that look like atoms, dark leather banquettes and tropical plants evoking a French-colonized Vietnam. (2) When you’re served the banh xeo, the friendly waiter will explain not only how to eat it, but its history. (3) That banh xeo is incredible. (4) The ca hong dam nuoc mam (whole red snapper) is so tender, so lightly fried, so flaky, you’ll pick at the bones like an alley cat. (5) The prices are pretty much the same as Tank Noodle’s. (6) There’s booze.
This tiny spot off Argyle’s main drag serves Vietnamese standards with precision, if not flair, in a stylish setting (though we could do without Two and a Half Men on the TV—with the sound on). Start with the papaya salad—crunchy, full of shrimp and delivering heat—and the bulging, heavy-on-the-coconut-milk banh xeo. Our banh mi was a little dry, but you can’t go wrong with phos 55 (pork, fish ball, shrimp, squid) and 45 (eye round steak, beef meatball), both chock-full of perfectly cooked noodles and deeply satisfying.
Known as Tank to Anglos, this spot is the answer for indecisive diners wandering Argyle Street. For Vietnamese-food pros, authentic picks are done well; for novices, the staff is apt with both English and suggestions. Lotus-roots salad is everything this cuisine can be—limey and minty with shrimp flavor, crunchy peanuts and a subtle chili kick. Pho is among the best around. Creamy coconut-milk chicken curry gets oomph from both sweet and new potatoes and garlic-fish-sauce-marinated “shaking beef” is flash-seared and served with vinegar-laced watercress.
Whereas Mary Nguyen Aregoni and Theresa Nguyen stick mostly to banh mi sandwiches at their French Market stand, here, at the slick little eatery they opened around the block, they’ve gone upscale. A plate of three delicious (if sweet) bao is a good place to start; grilled confit octopus is a playful and decadent second course; and you can end with a baognet, a fried bao with seasonal jam, bread pudding or Vietnamese coffee.