El Paso, TX
When I visited Viet Restaurant for the first time I had not realized it was recognized by Texas Monthly as one of the best new restaurants in the state. Instead, I just knew that it had good reviews and I wanted to try one of the few choices in town for this delicious cuisine.
I was confused at first about the name–it went by both “Viet” and “Nhà Hàng Viet,” but the owner told me the longer name was simply the Vietnamese translation of “Viet Restaurant.” Many people seem to love Vietnamese food as much as I do, as evidenced by the fact that the cuisine seems to be almost as common as Chinese food throughout the United States. Like Chinese food, there is a form of Americanization happening with Vietnamese cuisine, although to me it seems that the standard dishes served in most Vietnamese restaurants retain the true form of the authentic cuisine much more than was the case with truly Americanized Chinese dishes such as General Tso’s chicken, sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef, etc. at Chinese restaurants.
Unlike Chinese food, Vietnamese restaurants generally prepare the same dishes the same way everywhere, and the “Americanization” factor has mostly to do with which dishes are available and whether the local population will support the restaurant offering some of the more exotic food available from Vietnam. Although El Paso is like most cities in mainly having the most common dishes available at the Vietnamese restaurants, Viet Restaurant’s menu is one of the most varied in the city, as well as (in my judgment) having an authentic presentation of the food in another way that many restaurants make it more “Americanized” without many people realizing it. The ingredients and flavors used are as important as the dishes themselves, and Viet does not cut corners here.
I do not go along completely with the idea that less authentic means less flavorful, but for some dishes such as pho and the vermicelli bowl, I generally want it as authentic as possible.
The standard vermicelli bowl is served at almost all Vietnamese restaurants, but in El Paso it seems that every restaurant serves it on a plate instead. This does not affect the flavor, but the way it is prepared and the ingredients used do vary from one restaurant to another. At Viet the Vermicelli with Lemongrass Chicken is the best I have tried in El Paso, and I have been able to use my favorite Vietnamese dish as a benchmark to compare the different restaurants. Viet Restaurant has good chicken with a very good flavor, and this is about all one can expect at any restaurant.
The advantage of a plate instead of a bowl for this dish is that you can add your own toppings as you desire instead of having them mixed together. I like to go easy on the bean sprouts so the plate works for me as long as all the “essentials” are included. Viet has the normal vegetables along with a good portion of peanuts, so this made me happy. What made me even more happy was the excellent flavor of the sauce and the lemongrass. Missing from the vegetables was cucumber, but there were enough carrots to give a good vegetable flavor. Overall I think they did an excellent job of making this delicious as well as authentic.
One ingredient missing here was mint, an item most American restaurants omit. I later talked to the owner who said they have mint and you can request it, but most customers do not like the flavor of the dish once the mint is added. If I were not familiar with the Oklahoma City Vietnamese restaurants I probably would not even know that this dish should have mint, but I am now spoiled and I wish I had known about the mint at Viet. The fact that they even have it at all puts this ahead of the other Vietnamese restaurants in town. I also know that Viet will customize the food to a certain extent if you request it (although the non-customized dishes here are really delicious enough that I think most people will be happy).
Although the restaurant gives you a tea bag instead of loose leaves or brewed tea, this is standard for El Paso and is becoming standard in other places such as Oklahoma City. They also have boba tea, which I have not tried.
El Paso has at least three Vietnamese restaurants with fairly extensive menus (Viet, Pho Tre Bien, and Saigon Taste). I do not have a lot of experience yet with Viet, but the other restaurants have certain dishes which I find to be better than others. My benchmark dish (lemongrass chicken) has been best at Viet, although Pho Tre Bien is very close (Saigon Taste has other items that I like very much).
My explanation of why Viet Restaurant has the best reviews and is winning awards such as the Texas Monthly recognition is that the owner is present in the dining room and interacts with customers. My understanding of Asian restaurants is that they need a good kitchen with chefs who know what they are doing, but a good part of it is customer service where you can make special requests, get food prepared the way you want, etc. Viet has this, and I will certainly be wanting to go back.
Hours: Open Daily
Smoking: No smoking
Most Recent Visit: Jan. 3, 2018
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Vermicelli with Lemongrass Chicken