Remember how I said I don’t make it over to Lafayette Square enough? After the Yelp event at Szechwan Garden, I had a craving for more of what this cultural district has to offer. So when it came to deciding upon a restaurant to eat at for my birthday lunch with Rahul and my mom, I chose Saigon Restaurant, located on 38th Street near Lafayette Road (thanks to an initial recommendation from Twinkle).
Saigon Restaurant has outstanding Yelp reviews. Ever since I started writing my own, I’ve paid more attention to what others have said about the restaurants I’m interested in trying. It’s not that I’m incapable of making my own decision – you’re talking to the girl that’s a regular at Sahm’s Place – but I know that Yelp Elites are honest with their reviews.
Twinkle and Yelpers both agreed on a few dishes: ANY variety of pho, the appetizer sampler and the hot pots. Though how could one decide on just one dish? The menu is several pages with over 100 different meals to choose from. This was going to be tough, but not as tough as telling Rahul that we were going to eat Vietnamese cuisine for my birthday. After some reassuring and browsing of the online menu, he agreed that he could find something to eat there. And so could my vegan mom.
We arrived at Saigon on a Sunday at 11:30, just a half hour after they opened. One other table of two was there when we sat down, but many more people trickled through as our server took our drink order. We ordered the vegetarian egg rolls to share between all of us.
Each egg roll was perfectly crisp and held up to the sweet, tangy and spicy dipping sauce that accompanied it. I wanted more than just one! While I was interested in the appetizer sampler, only one of the items in the sampler was meat-free, so I’ll go back another day with Rahul to try it. For only $3.99, these vegetarian egg rolls were worth the purchase.
Though it was the entree that we all had the hardest time deciding upon. Clay pot or hot pot? Noodles or rice? While I was intrigued by the clay pot with pork in a brown sauce, I really wanted to try a dish with noodles and meat instead of meat served with rice.
Twinkle suggested the Bun Thit Nuong, or Grilled Meats with Vermicelli Noodles, particularly the grilled and shredded pork. I went with it but just the grilled pork, not the shredded pork. Rahul ordered the same thing but with grilled chicken.
Visually this dish was stunning. Chopped peanuts and shredded carrots give the pop of color it needs while the grilled pork creates a dark contrast to the white noodles and shredded daikon. What you don’t see is the cabbage buried underneath the mound of pork and noodles.
To complete the dish, you pour the side of sauce over the entire bowl of noodles and pork. I believe it was the same sauce that accompanied the vegetable egg rolls. The sauce loosens up the noodles and unifies the dish.
The best part of the dish was the grilled pork. Even if the menu didn’t say “grilled,” there’s no way you wouldn’t know it was grilled. You can see the char and you can taste the grilled flavor, and it was outstanding. I was full, but I kept eating.
Rahul’s biggest complaint about Asian food is that he doesn’t get full from it. This is what he’s said about traditional Chinese restaurants we have visited. That was not the case at Saigon. I’m not sure if it was the noodles, the large amount of food that was presented, or that we just enjoyed it so much, but it was filling. We were not hungry for several hours.
As if it could get any better, my mom’s vegetarian pho with tofu was beautiful.
The bowl of pho is on the top right, containing noodles with a peppery broth. It’s a flavorful base that doesn’t overpower the onions, snap peas, celery and tofu rectangles (what do you call them? They need a cute name). Next to that is a plate of bean sprouts, fresh jalapeños, lime slices and Thai basil sprigs that can be used to customize your pho-xperience.
No, I didn’t eat the tofu. But I did taste the broth.
Everyone truly enjoyed their experience at Saigon Restaurant. All of this cost around $33 plus tip. The real bang for your buck is the lunch special (half an entree, rice, soup and spring roll for $6), but I wanted to try one of the signature dishes first and come back later for a lunch special. Plus, it was my birthday, so I got what I wanted.
Service was attentive and our meals were presented quickly, though we were their second customers of the day. I don’t typically care for what the restaurant looks like but we did eat off of glossy dark wood tables that highlighted the white noodle bowls we were slurping. It was slightly chilly next to the windows and my feet were cold as we ended our meal, but that was my fault for not ordering hot tea.
I’d love to hear your reviews of Saigon so leave a comment below!