6218 Wilson Blvd.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesday.
Prices: $4.25 to $6.95. Cash only.
No separate nonsmoking area.
There are nearly a score of Vietnamese restaurants on Wilson Boulevard between Rosslyn and Seven Corners in Falls Church. But just when you think that the next one to open is bound to be a clone, along comes a place like Siu Siu, bright and comfortable with several small pleasures on the limited but evolving menu.
The keyword here is chicken, which even a first-time diner might have guessed from the bright yellow profile of a chicken painted on the window. There is steamed chicken with a Hong Kong influence and dry shredded chicken atop rice crepes. But, above all, there is chicken soup.
The inspiration behind the menu is owner and chef Le Do, whose brother opened one of the first pho (soup) restaurants in Arlington five years ago. Her brother's specialty is beef soup; at Siu Siu, partly to be different and partly because she thought it would attract health-conscious customers, Le Do decided to specialize in chicken soup.
According to Le Do, her predilection for chicken dishes and her use of certain herbs and seasonings reflect the influence of northern Vietnam, where she was born.
The well-executed, basic chicken soup is clear, delicately flavored and virtually fat-free. In one version, pho ga ($4.95), there is a hint of anise in a meal-sized bowl of broth strewn with pieces of chicken, bits of liver, thin rice noodles and shaved slices of round onion. From an accompanying platter you can add still more flavors -- leaves of the minty holy, or Thai, basil; crunchy bean sprouts; fresh hot pepper slices; or a squeeze of fresh lime.
While a handful of other Vietnamese restaurants in Northern Virginia serve pho ga, another soup on the menu, bun thang ga, may be unique to Siu Siu. The good chicken broth base is thick with rice noodles, a finely shredded omelet and baloney-like pork pa~te'. But the addition of the traditional herb rau ram may be an acquired taste for some Westerners. The herb can be omitted or served on the side. The same herb also shows up in a third version of chicken soup, mien ga ($4.50), which features clear noodles.
Once past the soups, there are only three other main dishes, which are all worth ordering: floppy, noodle-like rice crepes wrapped around a few morsels of ground pork and mushrooms, delicious when dipped into the sweet-sour-spicy fish sauce; pale, firm steamed chicken nicely paired with a sweetened soy dip; and barbecued pork, served here northern Vietnamese-style, off the skewers and already in the fish sauce, with the rice noodles and a mound of bright greens on the side.
Two appetizers have been added to the menu recently. One is a decent, cleanly fried spring roll filled with pork, clear noodles and vegetables. It is accompanied by lettuce and herbs including the traditional saw-toothed and fragrant tiet to leaves, not often seen in area restaurants. The other appetizer, which I have yet to see on other Vietnamese menus, is a wonderful concoction of sweet potatoes and shrimp. Cut like french fries, the sweet potatoes are dipped in a batter and fried with whole shrimp in the shell.
Desserts are limited to pudding-like sweetened black-eyed peas or kernel corn, both topped with thick, sweet coconut milk.
Not only is Siu Siu a terrific value -- it's quite easy to have an appetizer and main course for less than $10 -- but the service is uncommonly helpful, friendly and gracious.