Emerging in January, Vietnam Cafe displays all of the characteristics of it’s successful Chinatown brother: excellent food in a comfortable, contemporary environment. Located in up and coming West Philly, Vietnam Cafe offers a smaller, more intimate environment complete with modern touches that are unusual for the neighborhood.
With a whole crew heading to the area for a Saturday night community art show, we thought a taste of Vietnam would hit the spot. Expecting a wait, Russ and I walked by to have our names placed on “the list” and our hostess promised to call us five minutes before our table would be ready. An hour later, fortified by a dose of culture and a tour of the area’s newest yoga studio, our cell phone rang promptly. Our table would be ready shortly!
On our arrival, other hungry diners filled the small waiting area and leaked out onto the sidewalk. Our hostess said that it would be just a few minutes more, so we huddled outside. Typically, Tushar pulled a “Sherlock Holmes” by disappearing into the little bodega next door. After a short wait, we were called inside to our table. The dining room has a clean, modern feel which is uncharacteristic of the neighborhood. Making the most out of the limited space, the dining room seats about 32 people at closely situated tables. Comfortable is maybe the best way to describe it.
With menus in hand, our group perused a scaled down version of the larger menu offered at Vietnam in Chinatown. I haven’t been to Vietnam, but I’ve heard great things about it. Vietnam Cafe’s menu has a nice selection of Appetizers, Soups and Entrees with a nod to the neighborhood’s vegetarian leanings. Each member of our group had both an appetizer and an entree. Truthfully, for a few of us this was overkill; the portion sizes are good and we ended up taking food home.
We enjoyed all of the items we sampled, but I think that the consensus is that the appetizers were particularly good. Our entree choices weren’t particularly adventurous since most of us ordered a meat served atop either vermicelli or broken rice; very good, but the appetizers really shined. Among our favorites were:
Crispy Veggie Spring Rolls (appetizer) : Lightly fried with a satisfying crunch. A good, light appetizer.
Lemon Grass Chicken Soup (appetizer): Our favorite. Beautifully balanced lemongrass flavor complimented with a hint of spice.
Stuffed Grape Leaves (appetizer): Grilled beef wrapped in tender grape leaves. Smoky, caramelized, yummy. Definitely worthwhile.
Squid Vermicelli (entree): Perfectly cooked and well seasoned. As Tushar’s litmus test for a good seafood place, the squid gives Vietnam Cafee more than a passing grade.
Pork over Broken Rice (entree):Very flavorful, caramelized. I liked it better than my Beef Vermicelli.
Overall, our meal was really enjoyable. The food was very good, the service was excellent and the staff friendly. I wish we would have known that Vietnam Cafee is a BYOB in advance, because we would have brought along a bottle of wine. Regardless, you know now, so grab your favorite beer or wine and take a trip to Vietnam. Cafe, that is.
Vietnam Cafe is located at 814 S. 47th St. Philadelphia, PA (215) 729-0260