One of my favorite thingns about visiting my family in Maryland is the opportunity to eat good Vietnamese food. I don't know why Vietnamese food is sub-par in New York City (or if that is even a fair characterization, but Northern Virginia has a huge Vietnamese population and I grew up eating amazing Vietnamese food so I may be a little spoiled), but nothing in NYC can compare to what I can get in Maryland or Virginia. I mean, look at the quail in the picture at the top. And then the assortment of Asian fruits and desserts in the picturese below. You just can't find some of this stuff in NYC since there is only one Vietnamese grocery store and only a few Vietnamese restaurants in the city. This past weekend I went down to Falls Church with my mom and visited a shopping center called Eden Center. For those of you who know the area, Eden Center is essentially little Vietnam. The shopping center is full of Vietnamese restaurants, banh mi shops, bakeries, bars, jewelry stores, etc. And every little strip mall in a 2 mile vicinity has even more resetaurants, bakeries and banh mi shops. When Alex and I got married we had a small wedding banquet of sorts in a Vietnamese restaurant near Eden Center called Present. And we have tried a number of other restaurants, bakeries and banh mi shops in the area. Our favorites are Present, Huong Viet, Viet Royale, Song Que and Ba Le. Of those five, Huong Viet, Viet Royale and Song Que are all in Eden Center. There is a new restaurant in Eden Center called Rice Paper that the Washingtonian recommends that Mom and I will have to test out some time. Maybe during my next visit we will give it a shot... This visit we decided to go to Huong Viet for their quail (pictured above), lotus root salad (pictured below) and butter-fried frog legs (also pictured below - I know it sounds weird, but they are really tasty) versus Viet Royale for their banh xeo (Vietnamese crepes with shrimp and pork) and caramel fish. After lunch we then hit up Song Que for their coconut bubble tea smoothies (they make the absolute best bubble teas) and tons of tasty Vietnamese desserts. Song Que also makes banh mi, but we prefer the banh mi at Ba Le. When I was little I was obsessed with these little rice cakes called banh bo (the banh bo are the little colorful cakes on the far right in the picture of all of the various saran-wrapped green desserts). My grandmother used to hit the Asian markets and come home with little styrofoam containers of roast duck and banh bo for me and I was the happiest little half-Asian girl in the world. For some reason they don't seem to sell banh bo in New York City (although they do sell other somewhat similar Vietnamese desserts at Tan Tin-Hung) so every time I come down to visit my family I try to get my banh bo fix. So I guess I am still a little obsessed.
More (including more pictures) after the jump!
As usual I got a little over-excited when ordering lunch and we ended up with too much food. We had the quail, the fried frog legs (which have an interesting taste that is hard to describe - almost like chicken crossed with a white firm fish and then fried in a really light, crispy batter), summer rolls (you can see them in the picture above next to the quail), spring rolls and the lotus root salad with shrimp and pork. The only saving grace is that everything we ordered, with the exception of the frog legs, were appetizers. Even so we had to take some of the quail home as leftovers because we just couldn't finish it all. If I were to go again I would probably leave out the spring rolls and then it would have been the perfect amount of food. After we finished up we ran over to Song Que. Apparently Bourdain went there a few years ago because they had a huge random picture of their staff with him outside the store. I sent Alex a text with a photo of the photo and said "you know if Bourdain was here it has to be legit, right?" For the sake of full disclosure, I also sent him another picture and a text that said "All the banh bo I can eat. Niiiiiiice!" Perhaps I am more than a little obsessed...
Lotus root salad with shrimp and pork
Butter-fried frogs legs (they almost look like chicken wings)
Crazy tropical fruits at Song Que - there were a bunch of other fruits there as well (including frozen durian), but you get the idea.
You know you're in an Asian grocery when this is what the snack selection looks like.
See? It's Bourdain!