Taste of Vietnam is a small, nondescript little Vietnamese place just past Oak St. at W Broadway. Despite its sign outside, advertising some of the different dishes you can order within with some pictures of tasty looking choices, I walked by it many times before actually deciding to try it one day.
Décor is simple, if not virtually nonexistent. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I suppose. The restaurant is plain and doesn’t hold up any front of being a fancy restaurant or anything in the least. The exterior is an eye-catching red with a contrasting blue sign denoting the name of the place. While it was nice to have dim lighting in the evening for a more soothing atmosphere, I found it could have been just a little bit brighter. In any case, don’t expect a particularly wonderful ambiance or anything, should you decide to pop in one day. Noise level really depends on who’s in there, of course, but the restaurant is very small so it can get noisy very quickly.
I first visited it with M and N, early one Friday night. I was seated promptly, as the restaurant was completely empty at the time, and served a warm, welcoming cup of Jasmine tea. I checked out the menu while waiting for M and N to arrive and tried to determine the difference between the supposedly different types of noodles listed: Mi or hủ tiếu vs. bún vs. the infamous phở. It was my first time trying Vietnamese food, but unfortunately the waitress didn’t seem able to answer any of my questions… She couldn’t speak English very well, though she was very smiley and genuine in her attempts to help me.
After M and N arrived, we ordered our dishes, even though I still had no clue what the difference between all the noodles was (though I get it now, after looking it up). N actually got Lemon Grass Chicken & Shredded Pork with Steamed Rice ($7.95) but I didn’t catch a picture of it. She said it was good, but a little bit greasy. M went with Stir Fried Beef with Vegetables ($12.95). She was quite satisfied with it – it was filling and tasty enough, and the sauce wasn’t too overpowering. Both M and N were in agreement that the peanut sauce on the side was really good, though.
On that particular occasion, I went with Veggie Noodle[s] in Soup ($6.95 for the small). This isn’t phở, so I can’t pretend that I was having phở for the first time or anything… The menu said this is “hủ tiếu“. Anyway… I was really, really disappointed with this dish. The broth was so oily, and I was pretty unhappy to have extremely greasy fried tofu pieces in the bowl. (It wasn’t in the description… I just wanted veggies, hey!) The veggies must have been simmering a long, long time because they had absolutely no crunch and were practically falling apart even as I tried to pick them up. Yes, the bowl did come with a side plate of mung beans and lovely fresh herbs… And unfortunately, I think that’s just about the only part of this dish that I liked. The broth had almost no flavour, and even N agreed that the soup was far too oily. (N has had Vietnamese a couple of times before, so I’m pretty sure she knows at least a bit about the cuisine and what stuff should look like!) In any case, I would not order this again.
I’m definitely a salad lover, so I also ordered the Prawn Salad ($6.75 for a small). Um… Again with all these fried thingies on top?! There was just a lot of oil sitting around the salad, but hardly any flavour, so I highly doubt it was a proper salad dressing. The shrimp was tasty enough, but the mango didn’t taste very fresh and the carrot had no crunch whatsoever (and it wasn’t steamed).
I tried Taste of Vietnam once more at a later time, deciding to give it a go with Emme. I was hoping for a better experience, since I was the one who suggested we go there for dinner – it was close by and convenient, I thought. The time I visited with Emme, the service was actually much worse. One of the waitresses was extremely rude and really seemed like she couldn’t care less whether or not the customers were content, although the waiter that was working alongside her was much more polite and much friendlier. The waitress got frustrated when I asked something about a particular dish (I wasn’t bothering about the noodles again, don’t worry!) and stormed off without taking my order after responding with “I don’t know, I don’t care!”. So, that wasn’t a good start to the visit…
The waiter came to help us later, but seemed to get really confused with a substitution request that Emme made. She wanted the Lemon Grass Chicken with Steamed Rice — only she wanted fried rice instead of steamed rice. There was a little bit of confusion, but the waiter understood eventually. (So let’s call her dish Lemon Grass Chicken with Fried Rice, and we were charged $10.95 for it.)
Emme’s comments on the dish were that the chicken was indeed nicely cooked through, but there was absolutely no “lemon grass” flavour or aroma, making for a rather tasteless grilled chicken. The fried rice was okay, if not a little bit too buttery. Again, the dipping sauce (called Nước chấm, apparently?) was very nice – and a necessity in this case since there was no other way to give some flavour to the chicken besides dipping it in the sauce a bit.
We both ordered one Shrimp Salad Roll ($2.75) each. This was very good. It was truly really tasty after being dipped into that delicious peanut sauce. The rolls kept together well, the shrimp was tasty, and all of the vegetables in the roll, at least, were fresh, crispy, and pleasantly crunchy.
On top of the Prawn Salad again (which came swimming in oil and fried onion crisps, despite my having requested that the “dressing” come on the side and that they omit the fried onions…), I ordered some more veg on the side with some rice.
You’d think that a side order of steamed vegetables would be impossible to do poorly. Well, unfortunately it is possible. These soggy and overcooked veggies were reminiscent of the ones I’d been served in the soup the first time I visited Taste of Vietnam. They were steamed to the point of falling apart when you tried to eat them.
So, with rather mediocre food (though I can’t comment on the phở, mind you!), service that can either be friendly or quite the opposite, and an ambiance that isn’t particularly spectacular, I can hardly recommend the restaurant… I know there are better places for authentic Vietnamese cuisine around Vancouver somewhere, though.