Vietnamese in St. Louis

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    Asia reflects only a sliver of the titular continent's size and cultural variety. Instead it focuses on those countries many might think of when they hear the phrase "Asian cuisine": China, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand. Sushi is prepared well, though the fish itself is merely good, not outstanding. Entrées lean toward Chinese and Chinese-American dishes like General Tso's chicken; house specialties include Peking duck and an excellent Cornish hen dish. The Cornish hen is one of the few values on a relatively high-priced menu.
    Bamboo Bistro
    The friendly staff and large dining area provide a quick-fix for downtown 9-to-5ers looking for their midday meal. The lunch buffet offers a taste of the popular menu items at an affordable price. The regular menu includes a large variety of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese choices, including spring rolls, kung pao chicken and curry vegetable tofu.
    Banh Mi So #1 - Saigon Gourmet
    You might visit this charming South Grand spot for banh mi - it's in the name, after all - delicious sandwiches with thinly sliced meat, pickled vegetables and sometimes pté on a crusty baguette. Or you might decide to test the neon sign in the window that proclaims the best spring rolls in St. Louis. These, too, won't disappoint. Or you might just settle for a simple bowl of pho, redolent of cilantro and basil, or paper-thin char-grilled pork over rice sauced with nuoc cham that hits the perfect spot between sweet and spicy. Whatever you choose, husband-and-wife owners Thomas and Lynne Truong will make sure you leave their restaurant full and happy.
    BBC Asian Cafe & Bar
    There's no longer banh mi at BBC Asian Cafe & Bar, even though it used to be one of the place's signature offerings (one of the Bs in BBC supposedly stood for it!). There is instead gyoka, maki, chicken teriyaki and some unexpected choices, such as the unagi crepe, which is filled with mozzarella, crab, unagi and unagi sauce. But these days, BBC is less about the food and more about the nightlife; there's a stylish little bar here and plenty of room to smoke hookah. And while there are plenty of places on South Grand offering just that, to the best of our knowledge, this is the only restaurant in the Central West End with hookah as an option -- making BBC the only place in town to puff away while watching the Euclid Avenue street parade.
    Bobo Noodle House
    The new venture from restaurateur Zoë Robinson and chef Ny Vongsaly, who have collaborated at I Fratellini and the late Zoë Pan-Asian Café, is the perfect restaurant for its location across the street from Washington University: an inexpensive but stylish noodle restaurant. Vongsaly draws upon the familiar flavors of Southeast Asia - lemon grass, curry, fish sauce - sometimes, as in the excellent beef pho with butternut squash and red curry, in unexpected combinations. The spare ribs and pork spring rolls are dynamite appetizers, and the lemongrass beef over chilled sesame noodles is a standout main course. Delivery available during dinner hours.
    In a spot that was formerly a Long John Silver's, and a bakery, Crystal Bar & Restaurant serves Vietnamese and Chinese food along South Kingshighway. With a large patio in front and an ample dining room, Crystal offers an expansive menu of Asian dishes. While the Chinese menu consists mostly of familiar items such as cashew chicken and Mongolian beef, it is the Vietnamese menu that offers a wider array of cuisine. Appetizers include minced pork rolls called cha gio and other spring rolls with pork or shrimp, bi cuon and goi cuon. A small pho menu is also available. Crystal's Vietnamese entrées feature several different bun items, vermicelli with pork or shrimp or beef and other ingredients. Specialties include ca kho to, catfish cooked and seasoned in a clay pot, and tom hum xao gung, stir-fried lobster with onions and garlic. Crystal has a large parking lot that surrounds the building.
    Dao Tien Vietnamese Bistro
    This small, brightly colored restaurant is a family affair, with owner Diane Dinh and her ex-husband Dinh Dang handling the kitchen duties, while several of their children staff the front of house. The menu features very good renditions of Vietnamese favorites including pho, banh mi and platters with pork chops, egg cakes and broken rice. Suon ram man -- spareribs steamed and then simmered in a clay pot with a complex sweet, salty and spicy beef stock-based sauce -- are a standout.
    DD Mau’s name roughly translates to “hurry up” or “let’s go.” But for all its speed, the counter-service spot takes no shortcuts. Owner Julie Truong’s food is both innovative and fiercely authentic, customizable yet appealing to fans of traditional Vietnamese food. A vermicelli bowl features such traditional accoutrements as crushed peanuts, cilantro and pickled vegetables, but it can be tossed with a dressing, such as the funky “Vietnamese Vinaigrette,” which infuses it with depth and heat. All bowls come with your choice of protein. Spring rolls, pho and  bánh mì round out a perfectly executed menu. No alcohol. $. Open weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Sunday.
    The Emperor's Palace
    What can you get at this enormous all-you-can-eat buffet? Everything, it seems, but the ornamental fish. There are stations for dim sum, sushi, Mongolian barbecue and pho, as well as standard Chinese- and American-restaurant fare. The food may not compare to your favorite Chinese (or Japanese or Mongolian or Vietnamese) restaurant, but families, especially, will find something to satisfy everyone - and their budgets - here. But even the snobbiest foodies will be won over (or worn down) by the spirit of fun and culinary adventure: Where else can you try, say, jellyfish, and walk away from your unfinished plate without shame?
    Ginger Bistro
    This cavernous restaurant in the Delmar Loop describes its cuisine as "pioneering Asian fusion." Fans of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine will likely describe the dishes as defanged. Few dishes provide much flavor, let alone the vast array of vibrant flavors that any one of the aforementioned cuisines have to offer. Fortunately, Ginger Bistro is located only a short walk or drive from restaurants that serve the genuine article.
    Hooked Seafood Bar
    From the Hua family, which owns the Vietnamese soupery Pho Long a few doors west in U. City’s Jeffrey Plaza strip mall, comes Hooked, a casual, American-style seafood shack. Fried seafood abounds: shrimp, calamari, oysters. The shrimp po’ boy features crisp, plump morsels overflowing from a crusty baguette. A cluster of snow crab legs, simply steamed and served with drawn butter is worth the (relative) indulgence, pricewise. Pho Long fans should check the back page of the menu: The kitchen demos new dishes for that restaurant here.
    Kim Son Vietnamese Bistro
    There's a lot to grab your attention at Kim Son Vietnamese Bistro - bright-painted walls, flat-screen TV sets, a menu with 170 choices - so focus on the tanks along the dining room's back wall. The crabs, lobsters and fish swimming there are the house speciality. Try cua rang me, a whole Dungeness crab in a sweet-tart tamarind sauce studded with fiery chiles; or one of four different lobster preparations. You'll also find the standard array of such popular Vietnamese dishes as pho, bun (various meats served over vermicelli) and spring rolls. More adventurous diners may want to try what the menu terms "Classic but Unique Dishes," among them quail, Cornish hen and frog legs.
    Lemon Grass
    Lemongrass has an attractive new home - check out the silhouettes of lemongrass stalks projected on the walls - but it remains one of the best values along South Grand. Its cafe sua da (iced coffee) is without doubt the strongest and sweetest. The lengthy menu offers the familiar (spring rolls and pho), the hearty (try com thit nuong dac biet, delicious char-grilled pork and an egg fried over-easy atop rice, with a quiche-like eggcake on the side) and even the Chinese (ga Tso's -- yes, General Tso's chicken). Best of all, you can get a generous portion of almost anything on the menu for less than $10.
    Little Saigon Café
    A little pricier than you might expect for Vietnamese food but located in a higher-rent district than most of the other Vietnamese choices in town. Little Saigon is a better value at lunch but also offers a sufficient number of under-$10 choices for dinner.
    Mai Lee
    The area's first Vietnamese restaurant has relocated to a bigger, better space, but its charm remains. The menu is quite long and has the rare quality of appealing to novices and aficionados alike. For example, you can order spring rolls (goi cuon) or you can roll your own. House specialties include excellent roast duck and a beguiling lamb dish with lemongrass and chiles, troo xao xa ot. Mai Lee's pho, the traditional beef noodle soup, is capable of curing a cold, a hangover or existential ennui. Mai Lee originally opened as a Chinese restaurant; a selection of Chinese dishes remains available.
    Mama Pho Vietnamese Restaurant
    CLOSED Situated inside a former McDonald's, Mama Pho provides much happier meals. Pho is in the name. How is it in the bowl? The broth is beefier than most, pho's signature anise note more a subtle accent here. Other standout soups include beef wonton, which has a hefty dose of garlic flavor; and fiery, earthy bun bo Hue. The menu as a whole has the broad reach of most area Vietnamese restaurants, with plenty of noodle bowls and rice platters. Grilled pork is a sure bet, beautifully browned and oh so sweet. The spring rolls, simple and plump, are very good.
    A mainstay of penniless bohemians. Certain dishes may require a shot of liquid flavor -- a squirt of hot sauce is a good remedy -- but the big glass bowls of noodles topped with various meats and vegetables (try the bun ga xao) work well and are a nice staple, as are the goi cuon chay (vegetarian spring rolls). And, at two bucks a pop, you can't miss with the banh mi thit, a surprisingly tasty fried-chicken sandwich. At night, Mekong turns into the lounge Blue, and the restaurant's back room is the Jade Room. The Upstairs Lounge is, well, upstairs.
    Mi Linh
    Mi Linh, a gem of a restaurant in Rock Hill, treats its patrons to some of the city’s best Vietnamese food. The menu proudly boasts that some of the items are generations-old family recipes. The soups are the highlights of the menu, with the five herbs duck serving as a particular standout. However, it’s the butter garlic chicken wings that will leave a lasting impression. These meaty wings are bursting off the bone with garlic pungency, and the breading has a delicate crispy texture. Green and white onions cooked in the pan drippings of the chicken are infused with the garlic, spices and pepper and serve as a bed for the wings. This is one of the best dishes in town and alone merit a visit. Have fun with a creative cocktail list that includes concoctions made with house infused vodkas. The lychee infused one is particularly tasty.

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