Tag Archives: Vietnamese

Going back to Houston town

Even though people pour into Austin in ever growing numbers, to me, it still feels like a small town. Whenever I go to Houston it feels like such a thriving metropolis. It’s just a couple of hours away but everything is different. It’s flat and sprawling with more tropical trees and you can’t even find breakfast tacos on every corner. My mission was to see a bunch of old friends, snuggle with my favorite cat, eat a ton of Asian food, and kick it old school (aka watch Star Trek with my bff).

Our first stop after the Menli Collection art museum (which had everything from Andy Warhol soup cans to Congo Jesus sculptures and is free!) was for eating at Nidda Thai where I tried the deep fried eggplant in yellow curry.

It was delicious but hot as a soldering iron plunged onto your tongue  I really liked the rice flour crust on the eggplant although when I asked if there was egg in it the waiter looked at me like I was crazy, maybe he thought I didn’t know what eggplants were? We later went to a bar called the Hay Merchant to meet up with an old friend and we also got stuck at a table with the most annoying people I’ve maybe ever met at a bar. Here’s a Lazy Smurf Tip™ if some girl starts telling you that she is running for governor of Texas and then meowing get the hell out of there stat.

The next day, after stopping at Dirk’s for coffee, we went to the planetarium to watch “Cosmic Collisions” and then got a free pass to the butterfly conservatory from checking in on foursquare! Finally one of my 1276 check-ins paid off! The exhibit starts with a lot of terrifying cockroaches and scorpions but then you get to walk into, what seemed like a giant jungle terrarium, to see thousands of butterfly’s

.

It was the best thing ever to do on a cold and rainy winter day. After that we headed over to Quan Yin for lunch but it was temporarily closed for Lunar New Years.

We enjoyed the show and I got a mung bean pastry in a little Chinese bakery that had tons of vegan options.

At Quan Yin I was overwhelmed with choices since everything was vegan and decided I want to have a birthday party there so we can try everything. They have those fun tables with the lazy susan at the center like on My Three Sons and I wished that I had a bunch of people to use it with. We started with fried dumplings.

Amanda got the vermicelli bowl and it looked so good.

I panicked and got the orange peel chicken which was was good but I didn’t like the celery and carrots in the dish, I would have preferred broccoli.

After watching a ton of videos about pygmy goats and sloths we went out with my other friend at the Grand Prize bar and then came home to cuddle with the world’s most adorable cats.

The next morning I tried to hunt down vegan kolaches at Inversion coffeehouse but they only had cookies from Sinful Bakery. It sounds like you can only get them at the farmer’s market and maybe at central market. Next time I go I imagine they will be everywhere. Because that’s how I like to imagine Houston of the future, a vegan paradise. Amanda and I generally spend a lot of time oooing and ahhing over plants and this trip was no different. She took me to Another Place in Time where I bought some ferns and a succulent and saw a ton of neat plants.

We intended to overeat and go out in a blaze of glory by checking out the Pepper Tree Vegetarian Buffet that Vegan Houston always raves about but alas it was closed on Monday! We settled for Cafe TH where I was super stoked to see this sign.

But the pho was just good rather than grrreat. I don’t think I can ever truly enjoy any pho that isn’t made in the long process of Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Eats World. It has spoiled me forever!

We went home and I pretended like I was going to feed the cats so they would say good-bye to me which kind of turned into a nightmare because then they were desperate for food. Sorry cats! I love you!

It was a great weekend! I can’t wait to go back.

Elizabeth St. Cafe, a Vietnamese French cafe in South Austin

Traditionally, if you want quality Vietnamese food in Austin you have to be in the part of town where it’s hard to tell if you are in Pflugerville, Round Rock, or Austin. In South Austin we mostly have the standard Chinese-takeout-style Vietnamese places where you can get a ton of edible food for five dollars. When LuLu B’s trailer opened I loved that I could get a vegetarian bánh mì for 4 and I have long been obsessed with their 6 dollar bún. When the prices on each went up a while back, I stopped going so much. So at first I wasn’t so sure about how often I would go to the even more expensive Elizabeth St. Cafe which is even getting flack from foodies about the 22 dollar pho. But, unlike Lulu B’s it is open at night, has excellent service and has a super cute ambiance so I can see myself returning. It is kind of mind boggling that they could have made the old Bouldin Creek, certainly the cafe I have spent the most time in probably in my life, into such a elegant little place. Someone should make a “Where Have all the Hippies Gone” parody video. Or not.

The menu is definitely happy meat focused but I was gladdened to see that vegan options abound as well. We started with the Ginger Marinated Tofu Spring rolls. Since the peanut sauce wasn’t vegan we stuck with just the sweet chile vinegar and ginger jalapeno for dipping. Even with those sauces, I thought the spring rolls were a little dry, too heavy on the noodles and without enough herbs and vegetables. 

I think that the reason I was most excited to try the Elizabeth St. Cafe was in anticipation of their pho. I kind of became obsessed with pho when I lived in Washington and for years I was disappointed by every version in Austin that I tried. Recently I tried a recipe from Terry Hope Romero’s upcoming internationally themed cookbook and I it reawakened all the pho desire inside me. Elizabeth St has two different pho varieties and we went with the miso cauliflower version. It was delicious and I think would be perfect for someone that like the idea of pho but maybe not the Vietnamese version. We’ll call them fusion pho lovers. Next time I will try the tofu, mushroom, radish traditional version for sure. One thing I loved about this version was that it was completely packed with tofu and vegetables. A lot of times it seems like places skimp on all that stuff and just give you a ton of sprouts and herbs.

We skipped the bánh mì since they didn’t have vegan mayo and went onwards to the bún. The grilled tofu was a highlight for sure and there was plenty of vegetables in the bowl, in fact I think there were more vegetables than vermicelli. Everything was fresh and delicious and the vegan fish sauce was good enough, maybe a little tame. 

My favorite part of the meal was undoubtedly the bánh xèo (aka the Vietnamese crêpe) even thought it wasn’t on the menu and we had to special order it. Don’t you just love when restaurants are accommodating? The service, overall was great, our waitress was easily able to tell us what was vegan and what we could do special and when she wasn’t sure about the crêpe she checked with the kitchen staff. When the waitress returned to tell us they would make a special vegan version I was, in a word, stoked. This is the best bánh xèo I have ever had, although truthfully it was also only the second. It was coconutty, light and delicious and definitely what I will return for. 

We rounded out the meal with a delicious Lemongrass tea, although they do have a wide assortment of wine, saki, Vietnamese coffee, and drinks. 

It is a fantastic little spot, more expensive, no doubt then, a standard Vietnamese restaurant but with a charming atmosphere and excellent service.