Price range: Dinner entrees from $3.25 to $6.95; luncheon specials, $3.25. Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. Atmosphere: Tiny, attractive cafe serving wonderful Vietnamese fare. Reservations: Not on weekends. Credit cards: None accepted. Special Facilities: Accessible for wheelchair patrons.
On the occasion of my brother's birthday, we sought a place for a celebratory but affordable splurge.
A friend directed us to a near-perfect spot, Georgetown's Viet Huong, a teeny storefront restaurant that does wondrous things to food for bargain basement prices.
By luck, the four of us, including one daughter, one husband and one aging brother, entered when the only large table in the Viet Huong was vacant. Otherwise the place was packed and remained so throughout the evening.
It didn't take long to discover why.
For one thing, the highest item on the menu is a meat and seafood combination for $6.95, and most entrees are in the $4 to $5 range. For another, the food is exceptional.
The strength of the Viet Huong is to take staple American produce and work Vietnamese magic on it. Asparagus is paired with crabmeat in a soup, minced shrimp is wrapped around cones of sugar cane and slices of pork are transformed by a glazing of coconut juice.
Our group began the evening with a carafe of wine while our 12-year-old worked through a rumless pena colada which, she said, did not measure up to a cola. Noting the low prices and multitude of treats on the menu, we then launches into a rash of overordering.
We planned to share two appetizers, fried meat dumplings, $2.30, and sesame beef grilled on skewers, $2.85. Somehow spring rolls came instead of the beef, but it didn't matter because the spring rolls, $3.45, were grand. Casings of rice paper were filled with a kicky mixture of port crabmeat, mushrooms, onions and beansprouts.
A rather long wait between courses was eased by another carafe of wine. We were about to knock a star or two off for slow (if pleasant) service when our waitress came bearing several plates.
The wait was explained away by the obviously fresh and careful preparation of the food - everything was hot and just plain pretty to look at.
Our dinner resembled an orgy of hors d'ouvres. Everybody shared meals, and two of us had ordered two different combination dinners to get a crack at lots of the Viet Houng's offerings.
Seafood For Ways, $6.45, included shrimp fried in a puffy batter, a creamy Vietnamese quiche (made with seafood), shrimp toast (a seasoned shrimp paste piled on bread rounds and toasted) and more spring rolls.
Who could turn down a dish called Chick Pork Four Ways? We couldn't since this meat combination, for $5.95 offers curried pieces of boneless chicken breast, pork slices caramelized in coconut juice and spring rolls. It also includes a skewer filled with garlicky, marinated chunks of chick and pork, plus pineapple and vegetables. This Vietnamese shish kabob is called Golden Coins.
Our daughter had a One Way dish, tangy lemon chicken skewered and grilled, $4.25. Everybody got a taste of my husband's Viet Huong noodles, $4.75, which was a heap of noodles, of course, covered with chunks of sauteed shrimp, chicken, beef and vegetables that clearly had been cooked moments before coming to the table.
Without breaking stride, we moved right along to dessert - two orders of banana and pineapple slices deep-fried in an airy batter, $1.35 each, and a coconut flan, $1.10.
Our self-indulgent birthday feast cost $42, but a family endowed with greater willpower can eat at the Viet Huong for considerably less.