Draining the vat at Da Vàng
A friend criticized me for objectifying mi gente when I wrote in the August issue about gazing at the waitress during my last review.
We mustn’t reinforce “Spicy Latina” clichés, she said.
So this month, I steer clear of Latinas, altogether. I’m dragging my barrio taste buds to an entirely new realm: Vietnamese food!
Up 19th Avenue, just before Camelback, is a place called Da Vàng. Remember the name, because there are a few dining establishments in the area.
A friend went into the wrong restaurant and found a dark, smoky room where she was stared down by something like a Yakuza mafia gambling ring. Not appetizing.
At first, Da Vàng doesn’t seem all that appealing, either. But it’s certainly authentic. The names are frightening and I worried I might order “boiled leaf monkey”. That would break my heart.
Thankfully, Kristin the Canadian walked in and sat down at the table next to me. She knew the menu and saved me the embarrassment of running out in terror.
I settled on the spring roll appetizer and a soup bowl called Phó Tái Nam; “Special beef soup with rice noodles, sliced beef brisket and vegetables” claimed the menu.
Just to prove my bravery, I ordered a drink called Soda Xi Muoi: preserved plum and club soda. The pudgy little fruit sat on the bottom of my glass, looking like it had been slowly dissolving there for a week. I decided I’d had worse, and found it actually tasted okay… but I’m pretty sure drinks aren’t supposed to have debris floating around in them.
As I sat there sipping my drink, I watched other food being brought to tables around me. I should never have eaten breakfast. The soup bowls are large enough to go swimming in! And when the waiter arrived with my spring rolls, I realized soup wasn’t the only challenge.
These weren’t spring rolls! Those were Vietnamese breakfast burritos! The clear rice-paper wrapper showed leaves, shrimp, bean sprouts and rice. Wait… and a thin slice of pork. I felt healthy just looking at them. There was no oil on them – they had to have been boiled. I worked the two sticky rolls apart. I dipped the first spring roll into some hoisin peanut sauce and chomped down.
The flavor was a surprise… mint! Fresh, crisp, healthy, minty perfection. On a hot summer day, that’s a perfect meal to make you feel human again.
A plate of greens arrived, with sprouts, small chile peppers, and more mint. I was starting to see a theme in the cuisine. With some instruction from Kristin, I learned they were soup ingredients. When my own personal vat of Pho Tai Nam arrived, I tossed it all in and added a couple spoonfuls of Asian chile sauce for kick.
It wasn’t anywhere near as salty as I expected. And the mint matched perfectly with the tender strips of beef.
What I loved most, though was how everyone around me ate with abandon. Spoon in one hand, chop sticks in the other, they all but shoved their faces into the bowl.
As I finished, I decided to throw caution to the wind and lifted the entire bowl to drink the delicate broth… and damn near choked on the chile sauce I had added.
Though soup is a mainstay of Vietnamese food, another specialty at Da Vàng seems to be their sandwiches. All are served on French baguettes. The menu also offers up their version of stir-fry, egg rolls, and more.
The restaurant might look as far from Scottsdale glamour as it gets in the Valley, but the food is worth it and very affordable. My soup monstrosity was only $5, the spring rolls were $5.25 and the drink, $2.50. The staff seems nice. They’ve obviously grown used to newbies and are more than happy to explain meals to frightened folk.
As I paid my bill, I found another surprise. In a cooler by the cash register are Vietnamese desserts. The cashier helped me figure out what each one was and explained that a bit of crushed ice is usually added.
On the top shelf was a black bean and coconut milk cup. Down lower were fruit concoctions with thick coconut milk. I chose the most colorful one to take home.
That afternoon, I devoured my dessert like a kid who has discovered a new candy bar. I couldn’t tell you what a single fruit was in the cup, just that it was sweet Vietnamese delight.
Da Vang Vietnamese Food
Open Mon-Fri 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Reopens from 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
3602 N. 24th St., Phoenix
Phone: (602) 952-1255