Nobody likes a sad, skinny baby...nobody!
Whether I’m ordering a meal at a restaurant or cooking up something at home, enjoying what I eat brings me immense satisfaction. On the other hand, being disappointed in a meal sends me into tantrum mode.
I expect certain things out of a dining experience. I’m realistic about the standards I hold for each place, from the local taco bar to the five star steak house. What I've decided is that it's about a perfect balance between service, food quality, ambiance and price. That may seem like a lot to juggle, but Houston is a big city with a plethora of restaurants to choose from. There’s no reason to expect anything less than the best.
If you strip my needs down to the bare essentials, you'll find I'm very much like a baby; I love tasty food and I love to be happy. If an experience doesn't generate a sense of fulfillment for those two basic needs...you're gonna hear me cry.
Nobody likes a sad, skinny baby...nobody!
Van Loc - Give it a Try
The Skinny: They make Tofu actually taste good!
The Fat: Carnivores and Vegetarians alike will enjoy this Vietnamese/Chinese wonderland. I've been a fan since my "down-and-out law school days" and for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, they were always there to serve up some low priced, awesome Asian fare.
After you figure out how to get to the restaurant (through the maze of one-way streets and the Main Street Light Rail) you'll feel like your efforts may have been in vain when you pull into the shabby parking lot with potholes and cris-crossed yellow parking lines. Keep going, the prize is yet to come.
First of all, Van Loc isn't going to dote on you. The only time anyone was actually cordial was when I brought one of my dearest friends to dine with me one night. The fact that my friend is neither Vietnamese or Chinese, but a Korean/Cuban hybrid, was seemingly of little importance because my slanted eyed guest and I managed to solicit the rare, but quite sincere smile from the hostess/cashier. This acknowledgment was, aside from the thrill of immediate acceptance, totally invaluable. After all, the hostess wasn't going to be cooking my food, right? Yes, that's right.
Here's the deal, the prize is not the service, not the sleekness of the bathrooms, and certainly not the decor. Ok, maybe I'm making Van Loc seem like little more than a soup kitchen with a Vietnamese menu and a price tag, but it's just a regular place so I want you to be prepared. While the servers are usually on their game, it's certainly not a fine dining establishment. Just put on a pair of flip flops and get ready to eat until you drop...and maybe have some food left over to go.
Their Pho is amazing. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Pho, it’s an enormous bowl of steaming hot broth filled with rice noodles, sliced onions and whatever type of meat you choose-from chicken to raw beef.
By the way, the pronunciation of Pho is a delicate conglomeration of fah (like, “fa”...a long, long way to run) and fuh (like Pho-ck off, jerkface.) You should feel proud to pronounce it correctly, but if you're too nervous just point to it or use the ever reliable "number system" that Asian restaurants have been kind enough to attach to their menu items. But you're more adventurous than that, aren't you?
Anyway you say it, they serve it up just right. Each bowl comes with a plentiful side of bean sprouts, cilantro (I'm not a fan of cilantro) lime, and basil so that each person can add as much or as little of the fresh additions as they choose.
Before you order your entree, be sure to get an order of the shrimp spring rolls to share. Delicate vermicelli, crisp lettuce, fresh basil and sliced shrimp are tightly rolled into thin pieces of rice paper and served with some of the best peanut sauce I’ve ever had at an Asian restaurant - no lie.
People will argue that Mai’s, a similar Vietnamese restaurant down the street, is a fierce competitor, but I say “NO WAY”! Mai’s is just as unfriendly, just as unattractive...but their peanut sauce cannot hold a candle to that of Van Loc’s! Additionally, their rice paper is often over folded and quite rubbery. It’s no contest.
Now, I love meat just as much as the next gal, but once I discovered the glory of their Tofu selections, I was done. Since then, I rarely order anything else. While their chicken and beef dishes are fantastic, smothered in well thought out sauces and served with glorious, crisp veggies, I’m firmly hooked on two of their several vegetarian selections: “Tofu in Clay Pot” and “Garlic Tofu.”
The Tofu in Clay Pot is a heavenly pot of richly doused tofu combined with perfectly adorable cap mushrooms and served with a soft bed of white rice. The Garlic Tofu is, by far, my favorite. Here the semi-soft tofu cubes are gently fried and then tossed in an inexplicably perfect mix of roasted garlic and onions and then laid over a fresh bed of lettuce and tomato slices - all saturated in an anomalous vinaigrette that I’ve yet to recreate to this day.
I could go on and on, but you should just...go. Van Loc Rocks!!!
P.S. The portions are pretty substantial. Since there are so many fantastic items to try, you may want to take a moment to find a couple of things that you and your guests can share. If you're insanely hungry, go for the shrimp spring rolls right off the bat. They come out fast and will keep your growling belly at bay while you take time go through the rather extensive menu. About four people can easily enjoy two or three items - like one full size appetizer, one regular size soup and one entree. Van Loc is a bargain and a delight.
Location: 3010 Milam Street- 713. 528. 6441