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Thursday, March 19, 2009
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 water...no 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?