As District dwellers, we've made our share of jabs at the suburbs. While I still love living and working downtown, I do recognize that there are valuable parts of Virginia and Maryland that we shouldn't overlook. Recently we ventured into the wilds of Virginia to check out Eden Center.
Eden Center is a Vietnamese shopping center also known as the DC area's Little Saigon. It is a bustling collection of shops, restaurants, video stores (yes, they still exist!), and a grocery store.
I've read so much about the restaurant Four Sisters and I wanted to check it out. Unfortunately, I didn't pay enough attention to realize that it moved out of Eden Center to a new location. B was starting to give me the "are you sure you know what you're doing?" look so I ushered him into Huong Viet for lunch. It had a lot of framed reviews in the window, so I figured we couldn't go too wrong. The skeptical B commented, "Nothing says authentic Vietnamese food like Corinthian columns." I think they add a classy touch!
Let's start with the important thing first: the bubble tea. Bubble tea, or boba as we called it in on the West Coast, is one of my all-time favorite things to drink. Some people are repulsed by the gooey tapioca balls (a.k.a. pearls) in the bottom of the cup, but I adore them. From the oversized straw to the cool machine they use to seal the cup, bubble tea is my idea of a good time. Speaking of a good time, have you ever shot the tapioca balls through the straw? They stick to things, like B's forehead. I'm not going to be held responsible for damage you inflict from attempting it, but it is really fun.
Imagine my disappointment when I moved to DC and realized that bubble tea was almost non-existent. Thank you Eden Center for fulfilling my needs! Huong Viet's coconut version was a little on the sweet side, but the tapioca was the perfect texture.
Despite the fact that I was born in Southern California's Little Saigon, I know close to nothing about Vietnamese food. I had a Vietnamese college roommate who cooked amazing dishes, but I never learned the names of them so am pretty clueless when ordering in restaurants. In this case, we just told the waiter that we like spicy stuff and asked him to choose two dishes.
First, he selected the BÚN THỊT NƯỚNG CHÃ GIÒ – Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork & Spring Rolls. I'm not sure if we ate this properly, but it was really good. It didn't come with any sauce so we doused it with fish sauce and mixed it all together. I loved the bbq flavor of the grilled pork and the crunch of the spring rolls. The vermicelli were a little bland, but the fish sauce added a tangy flavor. Next time, I think I'll add some of the hot sauce that is provided on each table.
Second, was the BÚN BÒ HUẾ – "Famous Hue Beef Spicy Soup." Like a spicier cousin to pho, the soup was served with thai basil, bean sprouts, and lime wedges to top it off. I absolutely loved the spicy broth. It had a hint of lemongrass, but not so much that it overpowered the dish. I could see this being the perfect soup for when I'm sick. The drawbacks for me were the unidentifiable nature of the meat items floating in the dish and the rather wimpy noodles. The meat tasted very good, but if you're particular about what cut of meat you're eating, this probably isn't the dish for you. The flavor of the broth, however, was enough for me to keep slurping long after I was feeling full.
The best part of this adventure? It was so cheap! Most dishes on the menu are under $10 and they are huge. If you're a dedicated credit card user like me, be warned that Huong Viet is cash only.
Second Thoughts From B
I also must plead ignorance as we placed our fate in our waiter. Thankfully, when things taste good, it doesn't matter what they are called or what conglomeration of meat, bone, fat, and skin is floating in your bowl.
But the lesson here is to be adventurous and go outside your box. When I was in grad school, many of my colleagues were from China. When we were lucky enough to get out of the lab and splurge on a meal, it was often Chinese food. This was a treat for me but I often thought it was a shame that my friends came so far yet would be so opposed to experiencing the culture that surrounded them. In fact, I remember being at a conference in Maui and trying to hunt down what had to be the only Chinese joint on the island. I understand that someone like me who has never lived and worked in a foreign country shouldn't be pointing fingers or judging my friends for wanting a taste of home. Still, I think an occasional emergence outside the safety of Chinatown would have been ok.
Keeping that in mind, J and I have tried to expand our horizons and this includes remembering to go outside of the 10 by 10 mile "box" that defines the District. You just never know what you might find!