Viet's Cafe - great neighborhood place in Arlington
I moved to Arlington a few months ago and have been eating my way through the neighborhood. So far, my favorite everyday place is Viet's Cafe in Arlington Center. The menu has the standard pho, bun, etc., but it also has a pretty good selection of other entrees.
Last night I ordered the asparagus entree with shrimp. I don't normally like asparagus all that much (I don't dislike it either, just neutral about it) but the waiter recommended it. It seemed so simple when it arrived at the table, but it was so tasty. Perfectly cooked (not undercooked - undercooked veggies are my pet peeve), still a bit crunchy, bright green, some red bell peppers, with a half dozen or so plump, fresh shrimp stir-fried in a light brown sauce. The sauce was really good - not at all goopy or heavy or over salted - flavorful with a touch of sweetness. It all looked so innocent, but I found myself ordering more rice so I could eat more of the sauce.
I've also tried quite a few of their grilled meat w/rice noodle, veggie, herbs, and fish sauce type of dishes (either in a bowl or with those rice papers that you dip in hot water to soften and then use to wrap) and they are great, better than a lot of other ones I've had. The meat is so flavorful - not too salty - (I especially like the shrimp version of the rice paper wrap style) and the herbs and veggies are always perky and fresh. Though now that it's winter I tend to go more for pho, which is also very good.
I say it's a good everyday place because it is one of those places you can eat at often without feeling weighed down. For example, the aforementioned asparagus dish was really a big bunch of asparagus with shrimp as (large) garnish.
Service is great; the staff is very helpful, if a little meek. When I first started going there, they always asked if I had eaten this dish before whenever I ordered something new, and if I hadn't they would explain what to do. Also the surroundings are unexpectedly nice, a step up from your average neighborhood place.
Oh, and I really like their fried bananas. Little chunks of banana wrapped in some sort of spring roll wrapper, fried to a non-greasy crisp, with just a drizzle of honey to accent the sweetness of the banana and not overpower it, and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. (I love fried bananas and try them at every place that has them, and this place has one of my favorite versions.)
If you're in the neighborhood, definitely check it out.
My word. Last evening I took the 305 bus from Alewife to Arlington Center and stood staring at Viet's Cafe thinking "I ought to try this place and the 'home cooking' place beside it. If not for me then for the 'hounds" (one is always willing to make sacrifices for the cause :) ) In the end I hopped the 77 up Mass. Ave a bit and went home. But this morning I looked longingly at Viet's as I passed on my way to the Back Bay. In short, thank you for the report.
As for my own Arlington dining experiences, they are slimmer than my 9 months of living in the town could have allowed. For that I apologize and, now knowing that there are other Arlington dwellers lurking on the list, I shall do my part in advancing the Arlington prandial research.
Currently my only Arlington recommendation is Punjab on Mass. Ave in Arlington Center. I've had unremarkable meals at Buono Vita, Mr. Sushi, Jimmy's Steer House, Shanghai Garden and the Thai place across the street from it, and New Asia. Clearly I have not found the Arlington/Arlington Hgts sweet spot.
I agree about Viet's Cafe - I live in Arlington and it is by far my favorite place in town. Other dishes I've liked include the Vietnamese pancake (an app) and the hotpots (as long as you like salty food).
Does anyone else have any Arlington suggestions? So far, I have been pretty unimpressed on the whole. The Thai place (Sweet Chili?), Asiana Grill and Blue Ribbon BBQ are all fine for when I don't feel like cooking, but I wouldn't go out of my way for any of them. Arlington Diner (for breakfast) and Buono Vita were downright bad, I thought. Haven't tried any of the Indian places yet, which I've heard are good...