I have visiting Vietnam Gardens on Blanco Road at Jackson-Keller off and on for almost 10 years now. The food, whether you order Vietnamese, Thai or Chinese, has always been exceptionally good, and the prices have been equally fine.
The restaurant’s menu and website offer a hint as to why: “We appreciate your patience in allowing us enough time to prepare your meal properly, since it’s prepared only after you order.”
That means no stock pots of gelatinous goo that has been bubbling away for hours on the stove, no frozen dishes popped in the microwave and partially reheated before serving, no rubbery egg rolls that tasted like they were made last week.
But I’m somewhat afraid not enough people have discovered this gem.
I stopped in on a recent rainy Monday and found myself the only person in the restaurant, which was a shame because the dish I ordered was truly special. It was a seafood salad ($8.95) from the Thai menu, and it featured a spicy stir-fry of shrimp and squid tossed with lettuce, celery, cucumber, onion, carrot and tomato.
The winning mixture of warm seafood sautéed with cool, crisp vegetables was inviting. One bite and I couldn’t stop eating until the last hot pepper was gone. I even ate the underripe tomato, a fixture at far too many restaurants this time of year. (It was my fault for not asking that they be left out.)
On another recent visit, I told our server, who is also an owner, that I wanted something spicy with pork in it, and I let the kitchen do its magic. The end result was a Thai-style stir fry with plenty of meat and plenty of heat. Just perfect.
From the Vietnamese menu, I love to sample their version of Ban Xeo ($6.95), a thin crepe with a delicate crunch. This version arrives with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and lettuce inside, while fresh herbs and jalapeños arrive on the side so you can season it to your liking. Very simple, yet effective.
Shrimp Lemon Grass ($8.95) and Curry Squid ($8.95) are among the other Vietnamese dishes I would recommend.
Of the Chinese dishes, I’ve only had one of the vegetarian options, Buddha Delight ($6.95) with its blend of Asian eggplant and other favorites, on recent visits. But I will say that I remember enjoying the chop suey ($6.95 or $7.95, depending on style), the twice-cooked pork ($6.95 — and yes, I love the pork at Asian restaurants), and the egg foo young ($6.95 or $7.95, depending on style) in the past.
If you take a large group, think about sharing your orders family style around the table. Because the dishes are prepared individually, they are also served that way, so not all of the guests will receive their order at the same time. But passing the plates around will make the meal more communal, more intimate, more enjoyable.
So will bringing a bottle or two of wine to share. The folks at Vietnam Gardens welcome your bringing in your own wine to go with your meal. (You may want to bring your own glasses, too.) A spicy Gewurztraminer or off-dry Riesling would certainly go with the seafood dishes and anything with some heat. An icy rosé with plenty of strawberry or watermelon flavors might also work well. If you’re a red head, then think Zinfandel or maybe a peppery Syrah/Shiraz.
Whatever you take, including a pilsner, just relax and enjoy fresh food made for you at a reasonable price. That’s what makes Vietnam Gardens so inviting.
5433 Blanco Road
Lunch and dinner: Monday-Saturday