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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Vietnamese Food

I think it's about time we switch things up. For those of you who haven't figured this out already, I am a firm believer in the hidden gems that are our local holes-in-the-wall. Do not underestimate the great abilities of a hole-in-the-wall to completely catch you buy surprise and draw you back in again the very next day :P.

 So I know many of you Richmond foodies out there may try to dispute me on this one, but I say with confidence that Richmond's best Vietnamese food is off of Horsepen road near the intersection with Broad St. No, I am not mistaken and intending to say that Mekong is the best because, quite frankly, it is nowhere near that status. I have been there twice and was completely disappointed with the flavor. The food may as well have been that gross Americanized Chinese food with all of the sugar in their sauces. Just not good no matter how you look at it. So anyhow, just for clarification, I'm not even talking about the little semi-ritzy spot, Vietnam 1, right there on the corner of Broad and Horsepen in the plaza right beside the big Asian market, Tan-A. The best Vietnamese restaurant in Richmond is...Tay Do (6328 Rigsby Road)!!! By the way, here's a tip for you new international foodies...follow the natives. You will rarely see a native in Mekong unless it's some young kid, likely because they know or knew someone working there. On the other hand, you almost never see anyone but natives in Tay Do. It's because that's where the goods are :).

I LOVE this place!! If you can get past the strange Adam & Eve-like murals on the wall, you can allow youself to feel right at home as you enjoy their speedy service and phenomenal flavor! The food is well-seasoned and never overly sweet. On top of that, you definitely get your money's worth. You can get a great meal for about $7 and leave happy and satisfied. Another plus is that since it's in the back and is a no-frills atmosphere, you don't have the wait you get with some of the restaurants in the front of the "business complex," if you want to call it that, but you definitely get the same quality. I'm not claiming that the other "house-like" Vietnamese restuarants in the same area aren't good. I just prefer this one. I have been to the busier one, Pho So 1, and it is good but they don't put herbs in their spring rolls.  Also, because of the location in the front, Pho So 1 is busier, but I definitely prefer the more low-key and, in my opinion, more flavorful Tay Do.

At Tay Do, I recommend the Pho (Vietnamese beef broth soup with noodles, beef, fish sauce, and herbs that comes accompanied with a tray of herbs, lime, peppers, and bean sprouts to allow you to tailor the flavor to your taste. I also highly recommend adding sriracha sauce and hoisin.), any one of the beef ones (I personally don't like tendon or tripe) with meatballs. I get the regular size and I am always well-satisfied. To "prepare" your pho, I recommend starting with the juice of one piece of lime, 3 sprigs of leaves of the herb for that day, 2 or 3 slices of jalapeno, a handful of bean sprouts, a very generous amount of Sriracha (this is extremely spicy! We do not have an equivalent that regularly appears on the American table)(add it to the point that it's slightly red, if you can handle spicy food), and slighltly over a half tablespoon of hoisin. 

Before your pho, go ahead and try the spring rolls. They're always perfect. They have thin slices of pork that has a little fat on the edges, noodles, a few shrimp, and bean sprouts inside, along with fresh herbs (no harsh basil like some places). I recommend trying the fresh ones (A2 on the menu), but the fried ones are also delicious.  One order includes two, one per person, which is generally perfect.

If you're thinking you really aren't in a warm soup kind of mood, I also LOVE the grilled pork noodle bowl. It's slightly sweet with a little tangy -ness (don't think American Chinese food sweet and sour), and a great charcoal flavor and comes accompanied by carrots, cucumber, lettuce, and, of course, noodles, along with the slighly sweet fish sauce (you only need about 1TB of this). I LOVE this dish!

I also HIGHLY reccomend the coconut water. If you've ever tried coconut water before, forget what you thought about it and try it again. Their coconut water is lightly sweetened and comes with huges slices of fresh coconut meat in the glass. I love to eat the coconut at the end :). Anyhow, it's definitely a great, refreshing getaway-of-a-drink. Anywhere else, I usually just get soda, no tea or nothing like that, but this drink is just plain AMAZING!  Like I said, I don't do sugary drinks, but...the Vietnamese iced coffee is also great! It's a nice, dark expresso with ice and topped off with condensed milk. (hint: it comes separated, but you should mix it).

So a little tip to help you find Tay Do...once you turn onto Horsepen from Broad, turn near the Mexican restaurant with the green sign (the last turn before the turn into the condo or apartment complex). Once you turn onto this street, you'll enter a neighborhood, but soon you'll start to see that many of the "houses" are businesses. You'll pass a market with a sign in Spanish on your left, a Muslim religious center and some Vietnamese cafes and finally, Tay Do will be on the left. I think it has a light blue sign. Seat yourself, check out the menu, and enjoy :).

So before I go, let's say make this vow together - I (name), do hereby vow that I will not today, nor tomorrow, nor any day in the future, claim that Mekong is Richmond's best Vietnamese restaurant.

Hope you guys enjoy your nice warm bowl of pho with a refreshing glass of fresh coconut water. How much closer could you possibly get to being right in Vietnam itself?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Don't Knock it Til You Try it

Okay, so I'm a student, so I'm not in Richmond at the moment, but, believe me, I come back often :P. So my latest obsession is this new bakery. It's called Panaderia La Sabrosita (The Tasty Bakery) and it's over on Midlothian Turnpike toward the city beside Chicken Fiesta (another one of my faves - a post about this place is definitely soon to come), which is near Mattress King. The company has actually been around for a while, but exclusively as a wholesaler to Hispanic markets from Charlottesville to North Carolina. I found this out the hard way when I thought I'd avoid the middle man by visiting the address on the label to my favorite "yoyos" What I found was this itty bitty, barely visible, closet-of-a-kitchen that couldn't possibly have had enough space for me to enter, not to mention space for a register for paying. Alas, I had to go home sad that I had yet to learn the secret of getting to the best fresh "yoyos" (round, heavy cake-like sweet bread cut in half and re-bound with a thin layer of strawberry filling and coated with what is likely that same filling before being rolled in coconut) and "conchas" (round, semi-flat Mexican sweet bread that is only mildly sweet and lightly flavored with cinnamon, then coated with a thin cookie-like crust on top) Richmond has to offer.

Anyhow, one day I was driving down the turnpike only to find that there was a huge glass building with a sign that said opening soon and.... La Sabrosita! I nearly fainted!! So...being the obsessed fan of La Sabrosita that I am, I drove by there every time I could over the summer and every time I came home after that until finally, a few Saturdays ago, I strategically asked my boyfriend if he wanted to eat at Chicken Fiesta so that I could see if the neighboring business, La Sabrosita was open. It was!!! My stalker-like tendencies paid off. It was actually opening day! I could barely wait until after dinner to check it out!

So...I went in and I was like "yeeeaaa, this is it!" Unfortunately, there were no "yoyos" that night, but I did get the scoop on the baking schedule. Apparently they alternate every other day on what they bake. So instead, I took the sales lady's recommendations. She told me to try some Colombian bread with dulce de leche, so, although reluctantly because I wanted my "yoyos," I did. That thing was AMAZING! AMAZING! Very good! Slightly sweet round bread with coarse sugar on top and a thin filling of mildly sweet, buttery caramel. It was great because the bread was pretty light compared to other treats I've had and so was the caramel. Great job, ladies! So the sales person also told me they had some crazy-yummy sounding French bread stuffed with cheese, simply called "pan con queso" that pretty much disappeared off of the shelves. One day, I'll get there early enough to try it. So, today's recommendation...stop questioning whether or not you should try the new Latino spots in Richmond. Just go for it! Until I post again, here are some recommendations along that same vein:

Panaderia La Sabrosita - 7730 Midlothian Tnpke- big yellow sign - near Mattess King

Chicken Fiesta - 7748 Midlothian Turnpike - right beside La Sabrosita, how convenient? Guess you'll have to go there, to0 :P. I recommend the chicken and steak combo with rice and beans and ordering a side of fried yucca (yuca frita)

La Milpa - 6925 Hull Street Road
Bangin real Mexican food right after Chippenham Hull st exit going away from the city and toward 360 W shopping center. They have a blue sign and are on the left) (this is not no El Paso, Don Papa Grande, or Mexico Restaurant, so don't expect that crap when you get there). I recommend the Torta de Carne Asada. Don't bother with the empanadas there; I could beat those anyday, but everything else is very good!

Papa Ningo
Very good REAL Dominican food, not that crap you get at Quisqueya. Only problem here is that they totally rip you off. No self-respecting Dominican eats their meals without fried yucca (yuca frita), fried plantains (plAtanos), and rice and beans, so who do these "ladronazos" think they are charging a la carte for this stuff and saying "choose one?" Get over it, peeps! Just put it all together and make what you can make from it because that a la carte crap turned me off. Anyway, so they are overpriced for sure, if you don't get the buffet that most rant and rave about (myself not included). So, don't do the buffet, as tempted as you might be. The stuff you really see on every Dominican table is right on the menu. Try some "chicharron de pollo" on for size. Just like Mami Lourdes hooks it up for me, so it's the real deal.

La Palmera
Been a while since I've hit this one up, but the I had some chicken dish that involved "sofrito" in the name, the tipical Puerto Rican seasoning. So, you guessed it! It's the only PR spot in town. Anyhow, just look for something "pollo con sofrito" or something along those lines. It's really good. Chicken smothered in this semi-creamy, lite-colored, gravy-like sauce with garlic, sweet peppers, etc. Good stuff! I hear they have banging "mofongos" (fried green plantains with meat, pork skin called "chicharron" in the traditional style) and pasteles, but I hear the pasteles cost a pretty penny. Whatever though, I'm pretty sure it's one of few, if not the only place where you can buy good pasteles around here.

Nuevo Amanecer
6515 Jefferson Davis Hwy - near, but past Falling Creek Apartments going toward Bellwood area
Just a market? Nope! Fooled you. Market in the front, Salvadorean restaurant in the back. They've got some of the best "pupusas" (white corn tortilla stuffed with any combination of pork skin "chicharron," refried beans, and cheese. I recommend "pupusas revueltas" which combine all 3) in town. They really need to work on their "curtido" (pickled cabbage and carrots), but I prefer bad curtido to bad pupusas. I've yet to find both good in one place, but I haven't looked as hard as I could lately with all of the new places opening.

Dona Mercedes
Best horchata (Central American drink made from strained softened ground rice and water with sugar, cinnamon, and almond) I've had so far.

Tasty's Chicken & Bread
4140 Meadowdale Blvd - right off of Hopkins road, turning beside McDonalds. Inside Food Lion shopping center on left side of plaza and at the end. I'm really not sure what the aim of this name was...a wannabe "pollo a la brasa" (Peruvian-style charcoal chicken) or a failed attempt to attract black patronage, but the food is less than tasty in my opinion. However, the "conchas" are up there with the best of them. So are the other concha-like creations, like the "gusanos," "besitos," etc. BUT, I don't recommend their other pastries at all. Sorry guys...

Amigo del Hispano Market
In the same plaza as Tasty's, but on the main strip closer to CVS. Not a place for food but....on Saturdays you can get some goodies. Try their empanadas. I have no idea who makes them nor from what country the cooks are but they're very tasty and I would definitely consider myself an empanada connoisseur. They are beef and potato or chicken and potato most of the time and come with a tasty spicy "pico de gallo" (literally translate's as rooster's beak - the typical sauce that we Americans imitate with our "tomato salsa"). But yea, the owner's are Guatemalan, but I'm really not sure that the empanadas are or not.

Coming Soon:
Southeast Asian cuisine
Soul Food
American Gourmet