WHAT: This latest addition to the West Philly restaurant scene is an offshoot of the Lai family’s renowned Chinatown eatery, Vietnam. The Lais also own neighborhood mainstay Fu-Wah Mini Market, which sits right next door to the Cafe.
WHERE: 814 S. 47th St., located between Baltimore and Warrington avenues.
WHAT’S FOR DINNER: Some of the best dishes from the Chinatown eatery make an appearance on the menu here, including the rolls stuffed with mint and a choice of tofu or ground pork; crispy triangles of tofu accompanied by a sweet and spicy dipping sauce; and several selections of Pho, or traditional Vietnamese noodle soup.
WHAT’S MISSING: Alas, no curries or dishes in hot clay pots familiar to Vietnam patrons are on the Cafe menu—at least not yet. That said, there’s still plenty to satiate yourself at this neighborhood haunt. Besides several selections of Pho, try the Bun, or Rice Vermicelli, topped with tofu, pork, shrimp, or other meats, and Com Tam, a Broken Rice platter, in which beef, pork or other proteins sit atop steamed rice.
STANDOUTS: Can’t decide between chicken and pork? How about the House Special Vermicelli, which features a little bit of everything for $11.95. Decidedly not vegetarian-friendly, a mass of spongey white vermicelli is topped with a crispy pork-stuffed spring roll, grilled meatballs, and char-grilled chicken and pork. If you prefer to stick with just one protein, opt for the squid as a topping. It’s cooked perfectly, with a smoky grilled taste and delicate lemongrass flavor.
PRICES: Entrees at Vietnam Cafe top out around $12, and appetizers run from $4.50 to $8. Unlike the Chinatown location, the Cafe is BYOB.
ATMOSPHERE: On a Saturday night, be prepared for a short wait, as the small 32-seat place can’t fit all eager patrons at once. Just make yourself comfortable in the cozy seating area up front, blocked off from the rest of the place by a dark curtain, affording diners some privacy. The belly of the restaurant is lined with deep red booths, and the light-brown walls are accented by sections of exposed brick. The effect is warm, homey and inviting—perfect for a casual night out. The service, too, is attentive and accommodating, with staff ready to answer any questions about the menu.
CAN YOU TAKE IT WITH YOU?: Sure, Vietnam Cafe does takeout (just call 215-729-0260), but when we stopped by, they didn’t have any menus to take home. Until they do, check out Vietnam’s menu online at www.eatatvietnam.com to read descriptions of the Bun, Com Tam and Pho dishes.
Originally published on February 21, 2008