A few months ago, we ventured up to Brooklyn Park after hearing rumors that there was a lively and growing Vietnamese scene there. Turned out we’d heard right, and our first visit left us hankering for a return. So back we went, looking for three more Vietnamese eateries, and following the same simple rule as last time: no pho or banh mi, because those are everywhere. We wanted to try what isn’t so easily found.
Our first stop was Thanh Vi, an attractive, large restaurant in a small strip mall (which our server told us was owned by the restaurant owner). Like many of the restaurants we visited, Thanh Vi’s menu has its share of Americanized items, but then you come to the category marked Authentic Vietnamese Dishes, later followed by a section titled Thanh Vi Dishes, and things become interesting.
We began with an iced French coffee with condensed milk ($3.55), a classic Vietnamese drink, and one we’d thoroughly enjoyed at Phuong Trang. Thanh Vi’s was equally delicious, but while Phuong Trang served the coffee brewing with a phin filter, so diners get the full experience, Thanh Vi’s came already brewed and assembled in a plastic to-go cup with a straw — not the same experience at all.
That, however, was our only disappointment at Thanh Vi. After much debate, we started with Com Tam Bi, Cha, Tau Hu Ky, Tom, Thit Nurong ($13.65), or broken rice with grilled shrimp, grilled pork, shredded pork, egg loaf, and shrimp paste in bean curd wrap. Both the grilled shrimp and grilled pork were tender and slightly sweet, with a nice amount of char to round out that sweetness. The egg loaf was mild and seemed design to be paired with the more assertive barbecued meats. The shredded pork was almost like a vegetable side dish, very mild and soft. Perhaps the most surprising thing was the shrimp paste in bean curd wrap. One person at the table noted that it had an egg roll vibe to it, but funkier, and enhanced by dipping in the traditional fish sauce. Altogether, it was a platter meant to combine and play with rather than eat one item at a time.
We were excited to see that Thanh Vi offered several soups not in the pho category, and when we asked our server what he’d recommend, he pointed to Hy Tieu Nam Vang ($8.75), a soup made with noodles, barbecued pork, shrimp, squid, imitation crab, and fish and pork balls. This was a surprisingly delicate soup, almost Japanese in feel, mild but with a depth of richness. The thinly sliced pork practically melted in our mouths, and the fish and pork balls were soft and gentle. The soup came with a large plate of bean sprouts, jalapeño slices, and Thai basil, all of which added flavor and texture to this subtle soup.
The true surprise came with the Hu Tieu Bo Kho ($9.45), a beef stew with carrots, onions, noodles (choice of egg or rice noodles — we went with our server’s recommendation of egg), five-spice powder, and lemongrass. This was unlike any beef stew ever tasted by anyone at the table. The broth was more souplike than stewlike (by our American definition, of course) — complex, rich and intense, full of lemongrass flavor. Large chunks of tender beef had just a light taste of anise. It occurred to us to try adding a little sriracha (available at the table, along with several other Asian condiments), and to our surprise, a dollop of sriracha didn’t ratchet up the heat; instead, it almost disappeared into the broth and kicked up the lemongrass element instead — an entirely welcome development.
Having been more than happy with most of our choices at Thanh Vi, we knew that our next destination was starting at a bit of a disadvantage. Fortunately for Hip Sing BBQ, we were able to disengage from the previous stop by the sheer difference in environments and menus. Hip Sing is housed in what appears to be a former drive-in, with customer parking in the former drive-in slots. Inside, it’s a cheery, bright place, with several large round tables that have rotating glass plates on them, the better to eat family-style with a crowd. (And, in fact, Hip Sing offers fixed-price family-style dinners ranging from $128-$218, for 8-10 people.) Hip Sing has an extensive menu, with plenty of basics, but it also offers a large variety of deli and barbecue items, and that’s what attracted our attention — not to mention the vivid display of bright-red roasted ducks hanging behind the counter.
So the first thing we asked for was Roast Duck ($13.95 half, $21.50 whole for red or plain). Our half red duck arrived glistening, and it proved to be wonderfully tender, tasting like well-cooked dark chicken meat with a rich, earthy sauce that had traces of hoisin and soy. It was fatty, there were little bones, but who cares? This is pick-it-up-with-your-fingers-and-gnaw-to-your-heart’s-content meat.