This post is part of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance’s 2013 City Guide.
“I’m English. I have habits. I drink tea…” explains Michael Caine’s character while sitting outside the Continental in 1950′s Saigon. It’s the opening scene of The Quiet American, the mediocre movie version of the awesome Graham Greene novel. Like the main character, I also have habits. I go to the same Vietnamese restaurants over and over again even though Austin has a surprisingly decent selection of Vietnamese spots. Although most of them offer all the classic dishes, it seems like each one has its specialty. Here are a few of my favorites for now!
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Tam Deli is my go-to spot for a casual dinner of bánh mì, the classic sandwich of cucumber, pickled daikon and carrots, and meat stuffed into a tender baguette. Although not especially traditional, the chargrilled pork and lemongrass beef are popular fillings. Their crispy yam and shrimp fritters are another unique dish, and their cream puffs have an enthusiastic following. Lulu B’s trailer and Lily’s Sandwich are also good bánh mì spots– I love my friend Maggie’s post about a visit to Lily’s!
Pho Saigon is my favorite place for a trusty bowl of the noodle soup served with fresh herb garnishes. Pho is one of the best hangover cures, especially when accompanied by Vietnamese drip coffee with sweetened condensed milk. Order the tender brisket if you’re feeling a bit “off” from the night before, and save the gelatinous tendon for later. Many fellow food bloggers also recommend Pho-Natic and Pho Dan.
Have you ever walked into a Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall restaurant and spotted the weird colorful desserts in plastic cups? Grab the white one if you see it– it’s the life-changing Vietnamese yogurt. I used to eat this at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the whole world, Pho Tau Bay in Gretna, Louisiana. This yogurt is often made from scratch using whole milk and sweetened condensed milk, resulting in a perfectly tangy yogurt with a haunting sweetness. I was thrilled to see it at Lily’s Sandwich. Get on it!
Banh Xeo and Bun
In Austin, I have yet to find a decent vermicelli noodle salad or banh xeo, a crispy crepe filled with shrimp and pork. I have hope, however, after reading Michelle’s post from last year (you should take a look– she has great recommendations) I can’t wait to try the banh xeo at Sunflower and YaYa’s for vermicelli.
Trendy Vietnamese Food
Elizabeth Street Cafe has repackaged Vietnamese food for a trendy Austin crowd. The pitch perfect interior design is almost straight out of a Graham Greene novel– an updated French café feel with a touch of Southeast Asian influence. There are plenty of unique fusion dishes like the Kaffir Lime Chicken Banh Mi that I covered for Serious Eats. The food is impeccably cooked, but I always feel like something is… lacking, like the food has been watered down for yuppies willing to pay double the usual price for Vietnamese food. Other food bloggers swear by it, however, so it’s worth a try!