As a HUGE fan of Vietnam in Chinatown, I was ecstatic to learn that the Lai Family was opening up a satellite restaurant two blocks from my apartment in West Philadelphia. Vietnam Cafe does not offer as many dishes as the one in Chinatown, but in my opinion, that’s GREAT! The items on the menu are fantastic and more may cause too much indecision (on my part, that is!). The food is also cheaper and the restaurant is BYOB. Some may be turned off by the scaled-down approach to Vietnam Cafe, but I think it’s cozy and perfect for a West Philly establishment.
While I haven’t tried everything on the menu, most of the items are delicious and fresh. Having never been to Vietnam, I cannot vouch for the Vietnamese authenticity of Vietnam Cafe, but my discerning palate is most definitely pleased after each meal. A few of my favorite dishes are:
Grilled BBQ Platter: a variety of appetizers, the BBQ platter is served in a giant wooden bowl and is definitely a meal for two starving patrons. The meats are grilled to perfection; the dripping juices soak into the vermicelli-stuffed, self-rolled spring roll wrappers. Fresh mint, cucumber, and pickled radish and carrot are also delicious when paired with the meat. Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for pickled things. The beef wrapped with grape leaves are particularly amazing, almost reminiscent of a Greek kabob. Of course, fish and tamarind sauces are provided for dipping. The BBQ Platter is the first item I tried from the original Vietnam, and I was so happy to see that the Lai’s decided to add it to the new Vietnam Cafe menu.
Pho Tai (Beef Noodle Soup): a traditional Vietnamese staple. Vietnam’s Pho Tai has a delicious broth, which is what makes it stand out from other Asian noodle soups I’ve had. There are a lot of spices going on in the broth: star anise, ginger, pepper, and coriander are a few that I can detect. I’ve never been a huge beef fan, but somehow I am in love with this beef soup. Raw flank steaks are dropped into the broth so that they are gently cooked when the bowl gets to the table. Vietnamese cuisine seems to love the contrast between cooked and raw; the soup is presented with a side of fresh coriander (cilantro), bean sprouts, and jalapeno. I add all the accompaniments, plus a bit of Sriracha sauce to spice things up.
And… since I have such a sweet tooth, I usually get the taro coconut rice pudding, which is smooth, not too sweet, and amazing. They serve it hot, which may surprise some foodies, but I think it’s MORE than successful. The corn one is also delicious!
I almost forgot to mention that the Lai family and the rest of the waitstaff are welcoming, warm, and amazingly helpful. Some of the dishes a tad mysterious and the servers are descriptive with their explanations. I love this place! I usually dine at Vietnam Cafe once a week and I think they know me by name. Woohoo!