We’re Fans of Van’sNovember 2, 2011
A couple of years ago, we made mention of Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant on Central Ave. That post was mainly about how shocked and delighted we were at the authenticity and pure deliciousness of the food, as compared to when we lived near the Little Saigon area of Orange County, CA. But after experiencing another fabulous, perfect meal at Van’s last weekend, it’s time for an official MHK review.
Van’s is fairly minimal in its décor; the atmosphere is bright and inviting, and the space is open and somewhat quiet. There were only a few tables of patrons at 7:30 on a Saturday night, but an unexpected snowstorm was probably keeping others away.
Van’s offers a decent wine and beer selection, along with some authentic Vietnamese drinks like salted lemonade, Vietnamese coffee, and fruit shakes. We had a couple of different wines, a beer, and a mango shake which was perfect for the savory meal to come.
Van’s menu has altered slightly over the years; the menu used to be a lot more extensive than it was last week, but it still has plenty to choose from. Appetizers include several variations of spring and summer rolls (spring rolls are fried, summer rolls are wrapped in rice paper), along with fried stuffed chicken wings, mussels, a few salads and plenty of phở, the classic Vietnamese soup made with beef, chicken, shrimp, or tofu. One day we may get around to trying their phở, but that night we got what we always get, the vegetarian summer rolls. These fantastic items feature shredded tofu, carrots, vermicelli noodles, and herbs wrapped in rice paper. I tried making these at home once, and they didn’t turn out so well – for $5, just get them at Van’s. The rice paper is perfectly tender and chewy, providing just enough thickness to house the fresh ingredients within. It’s served with nước mắm, that delightful Vietnamese finishing sauce, which adds the perfect amount of moisture to the rolls. It’s a terrific dish to get your appetite prepared for what’s next.
Van’s entrees may seem similar at first glance – each dish features pork, beef, chicken, seafood, or tofu (or combinations of them), and each dish is served with either rice or vermicelli noodles. There are also a few duck dishes, along with a couple of stuffed pancake items. We have tried many different dishes, but on this night we had the crispy roasted chicken (half), the sautéed spicy beef, the Thai chicken and shrimp, and one more – the dish I always order is actually no longer on the menu; it was grilled pork and spring rolls over vermicelli noodles. But now it’s called Van’s Special Three Delight Meat (yes, the grammar is not perfect, which just adds to the charm) – it’s basically the same dish, with the addition of grilled shrimp.
The half chicken was awesome – the crispy skin was very tasty, and the meat was beyond moist; the juices were flowing all over the plate. The beef was cooked perfectly, had great flavor, and the sautéed onions and peppers were a perfect compliment. We raised an eyebrow at our companion who ordered the Thai dish at a Vietnamese restaurant, but with the dearth of quality Thai food around here, why not? Turns out it was fantastic – the yellow curry was packed with flavors of coconut milk and spices, allowing the chicken and shrimp to soak it all in. It was served with thick rice vermicelli noodles, which also were a great vehicle for the curry sauce. The Three Delight Meat was, as usual, simply divine. The thin slices of grilled pork, the chunks of fried spring rolls, and the amazing grilled shrimp were all seasoned so well, and when mixed in with the fresh herbs, chopped peanuts and the nước mắm, it’s almost indescribable how good this dish is. Most dishes are served with pickled carrots and jicama, which provide a sweet and salty contrast to the spiciness of the rest of the dishes.
Other dishes we have tried in the past include their grilled lemongrass chicken, their boneless half duck, and the Vietnamese curry chicken; all of them were fantastic. Prices at Van’s may seem a little high, but when you consider the large portions and unbelievable quality, it’s well worth it. Appetizers and phở range from $6-$10, and entrees range from $11-$20. Incredible food and a pleasant atmosphere await you at Van’s – do not miss this marvelous place!
The Mouse House Kitchen gives Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant 5 out of 5 stars!