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What to order at Sunflower

Rudeboy told me, but I forgot. It's right across the street and I've never been...

Which, apparently, is a big mistake.

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  1. shaken beef (my favorite dish)
    any of their rice clay pots
    rice flour crepes

    their springs rolls are the best i've ever had i think anywhere, ever. also their steamed rice is so good, for some reason. it's amazing, which is a weird thing to say about steamed rice. most of their dishes, especially seafood, are really good. you can't really go wrong, but i would advise to stay away from the pho

    3 Replies
    1. re: yimay

      are the spring rolls that you are referring to fried? because i do like their traditional vietnamese eggrolls that some people call spring rolls but what i know to be cha gio - they are filled w/ a stuffing that has meat, woodear mushroom, bean thread (clear) noodles, etc. their cha gio are some of the best in town.

      the rice flour crepes that everyone is talking about referring to is called banh xeo and is a rice flour crepe filled w/ pork and shrimp and green mung bean sprouts. it's yummy and delicious and the best here. i personally don't eat at Kim Phung.

      also, i can recommend the veggie fried rice here too...again, i'm a carnivore but the veggie fried rice is awesome! mmm...this is making me hungry. i'm going to Tam Deli on Lamar in two weeks but need to schedule a visit to Sunflower as well. haven't tried Le Soleil yet either so i guess i need to add that to the list as well.

      1. re: kalex

        by spring roll i mean the non-fried rolls. i always grew up calling the non-fried rolls "summer rolls" and the fried eggrolls "spring rolls", but since living in Austin everyone and every restaurant has called the non-fried ones "spring rolls" so i adapted.

        1. re: yimay

          gotcha - i do agree that the spring rolls - goi cuon to me - at sunflower are good here as well...i always use the vietnamese terms because there is that confusion. of course, MY spring rolls are the absolute bomb because i use more fresh herbs in them. it's the perfect time to make 'em now too so i'm going to have to get on that...

    2. I cant remember the vietnamese name for it, but it is a big crepe filled with sprouts and different meats or seafood and you wrap pieces of it up in a lettuce leaf with lots of fresh herbs and fish sauce and other good stuff and it is great...Sunflower and Le Soleil are the only two places I know it town that do this dish. Sunflower does a mean Shaking Beef - a vietnamese staple that they really shine on - the beef cubes were so tender and flavorful...

      1 Reply
      1. re: saticoy

        That is simply called "Vietnamese Crepe." FYI, Kim Phung also serves one, as did the Hue place on Lamar that has closed down.

        The standard pork and shrimp salad is awesome and fresh. Get the small one for an appetizer and be sure to pour the fish sauce on it.

      2. addendum...there is one dish here that is my absolute favorite that i used to get all the time and that i haven't found at too many restaurants. it's the fish braised in a clay pot. it's chunks of catfish in a dark, rich broth that has a bit of chile and black pepper and it's sooo yummy just over steamed white rice - ca kho to i believe is what it's called. it used to be a monday tradition for me to order this on the way home from work. it's like my comfort food in the winter. i would add more of the chile and garlic paste that i had at home just to spice it up some more.

        also, they have some other beef dishes besides the shaken beef (bo luc lac) that are really tasty as well and try the shrimp on sugarcane if you can - chao tom.

        1. The five spice roast chicken is my favorite chicken dish anywhere. There's a perfect balance of spices, it's perfectly roasted to a caramelized, juicy turn and it invades my thoughts at least twice a week. Wow, is it good.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Greg Spence

            The shaken beef is very good, though I like the lemongrass tofu quite a bit as well. They have great fresh lemonade. I also agree with the spring rolls and imperial rolls.

          2. Bahn Xeo (Vietnamese Crepe) is a winner! Goi Tom Thit (Pork and Shrimp salad) is my favorite in town. Five Spice Chicken is Awesome. Their claypots are also very good, and large meals. The Bun and Pho are good, although I prefer the Bun and Pho at other places.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Homero

              I almost forgot. If you haven't been, you also owe it to yourself to check out the Tam Deli nearby for fantastic Bahn Mi (Vietnamese Sandwiches) and desserts.

            2. My hands-down favorite is the salted toasted squid - probably the best squid dish I've ever had. Also a big fan of the green beans with tofu.

              1. Because the Domestic Partner is vegetarian, we eat a lot of tofu. We ALWAYS get the spring rolls and imperial rolls, hot and sour soup, tofu salad, and egg noodles with tofu; which leave enough left over for a terrific lunch for one the next day. Very, very satisfying. Especially the salad... and noodles... and soup... and rolls. I don't think the meat versions of the dishes could be any better, but probably as good.

                3 Replies
                1. re: travisleroy

                  if you've never tried their veggie fried rice (it has tofu and mushrooms in it), you might give it a whirl next time. i lived with my little sister for a year and she's a veggie and we had this and it was very good and plentiful too.

                  1. re: kalex

                    As Chinese myself I go to Din Ho Chinese BBQ (8557 Research Blvd # 116), it is the same price but the selection is way better.

                    1. re: Austintt

                      Since this thread is about what to order at Sunflower, maybe you could tell us what you like there? That is, if you've been to Sunflower and can make suggestions about their menu.

                      There are several other threads that discuss Din Ho, where you can share specific recommendations about what you think is good there.

                2. I went a couple days ago with another Chowhounder, and we had the loc lac beef, the 5 spice chicken, the bahn xeo crepe, and the fried squid. It was all solidly good, with the 5 spice chicken being my favorite. They have a pretty deep menu, and it seems like it would be a fun please to delve deeper into Vietnamese cuisine.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: nkurz

                    Finally went on Thursday and didn't see the shaken beef on the lunch menu, so I got the five spice chicken and they let me sub a summer roll for the fried roll (very wise choice). For $7 I had enough for two lunches and the chicken was truly wonderful. Summer roll was nicer than most I've had.

                    1. re: amysuehere

                      FYI all - there's a red menu and a blue menu.....whichever one they give you for lunch (I think the red) - ask for the other. The blue menu contains all of the dinner items. They've never told me that they couldn't make the dinner stuff at lunch.

                      1. re: amysuehere

                        Is Sunflower open on Tuesdays? I thought (like Tam's) they are closed on tuesdays. Best to call first.

                  2. i love the vegetarian hot and sour soup, with tomatoes, pineapple and sprouts. the veggie noodle soup is great as well and what i crave if i have the sniffles. my partner loves the shaken tofu as well.

                    we took a group of friends not long ago and they loved it. sunflower was more than happy to hold a large table for us and we brought lots of our own wine.

                    it's around the corner, so we happily eat it often. the chronicle and others rank 'la soleil' as the best vietnamese, and while the menu is a near carbon copy...i strongly disagree.

                    1. Mussels in black bean sauce. Shrimp with green beans.

                      1. I recently checked out Sunflower and tried out some of the items suggested in this thread. Of the dishes sampled, the Bo Luc Lac (shaken beef) was the best, followed by the Muc Rang Muoi (toasted calamari). The latter would have been much better had the squid not been tough and chewy, which was likely the result of overcooking, despite the pale-blond color of the fried squid pieces. The Cha Gio (Imperial rolls, fried), Bahn Xeo (Vietnamese crepe), and Goi Tom Thit (traditional shrimp and pork salad) were above average. I was not overwhelmed with the Com Tay Cam Hai San (seafood clay pot), but it was fine. On the other hand, the flan dessert [mentioned on another thread] was very good. Unfortunately, our party did not order the highly-recommended Gai Ngu Vi (five-spice roasted chicken), which I'll be sure to check out next time. Thanks for all the tips.

                        I have to say that, overall, the sauces seemed sweet to me. After checking out the five-spice chicken and the fresh lemonade, should I look elsewhere? Or is there another dish that Sunflower does better than anyone else?

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: MPH

                          I think that for years most Austinites equated Vietnamese food to either Pho or Bun. Then there was Kim Phung, with a few other dishes, but then it was confusing with all those chinese dishes. People thought that they were eating Vietnamese, but were getting an eggroll and hot and sour to go with it. Sunflower was the first here to have a varied menu that's strictly Vietnamese. If I recall, it is about 8 or so pages...granted, some combinations, like the noodle dishes, expand the menu because there are simply so many combinations. They used to have a bad rap for crude service, but that might have been the result of the ice storm preceding the split (and then Soleil opened).

                          Personally, I didn't know much about Vietnamese food until when I started to go to Sunflower, then Soleil, then a few more places. I love the generous use of fresh vegetables, the bright flavors, and the inventive use of combination cooking. Vietnamese food, to me, in an interesting melange of spice, fresh greens, earthy, sweet, and sometimes a bit of fire. Basically, I've run then entire menu and have found only a few things that I don't like. I too find that the calimari is a bit overcooked about every other time I order it (as an aside, there is or was a very good version of a similar dish at Peony). I crave only one of their soups, it comes with broccoli greens, a nice clear white peppery broth, and shrimp paste/pork things.

                          However, there are a few things that I crave - the traditional salad and the calimari salad. The shaken beef every once in a while, a special fish dish that comes out on a cast iron skillet (not the fried one - the sauce on this one might be a bit sweet for you), sizzling beef and prawns, those four big prawns that are fried and are served on DELICIOUS garlic noodles (some people are put off by the shell and the paste underneath). There's green bean and shrimp dish that is excellent - peppery with lots of garlic (no sweetness in that one). I've heard that their curry dishes are outstanding, but I've yet to try one.

                          Maybe unfortunately for you MPH, many vietnamese dishes have sugar or something sweet added as contrast to spice or a twang. I don't find Sunflower's nuoc cham or the peanut sauce to be any sweeter than anywhere else. The shaken beef is always carmelized in sugar.

                          Actually, I was asking my wife if she could remember some other dishes that I might not be thinking of, and we just decided to go down there! I'll edit with updated information later.

                          1. re: rudeboy

                            Okay, just got back. We had the imperial rolls...something that we've never ordered, but I saw what kalex said above: "they are filled w/ a stuffing that has meat, woodear mushroom, bean thread (clear) noodles, etc. their cha gio are some of the best in town " and decided that I had to have it. These well fried rolls were served with a small side of lettuce, marinated strips of carrot and something like radish, nuoc cham, and some little bean thread noodles. It made a nice little wrap. I'm saving one for a 3 am craving.

                            We tried the traditional beef salad this time. Very similar to the pork and shrimp, which I love, but not quite as much mint as I wanted this time. We wolfed it down, waiting for the fish. An excellent melange, as usual.

                            Last, we had "chunks of halibut" stir fried in a tamarind sauce. I was a little worried about the tamarind when ordering, but wanted to try something new. It looked like a S&P fish dish when it came out, but without that flavor and a fairly sweet sauce drizzled over. I felt that I had to correct it with some chili sauce. This dish was too sweet for me, but the fish was good. Most of the sauce was at the bottom of the plate, over lettuce and purple onion, with the fish and then cilantro draped over.

                            I'm a little pissed...their menu isn't on line, so I grabbed the blue to go menu for reference. Now, I can't find it. I must have left it on the table. I wanted to be able to correct my memory above.

                            The soup that I like is" Shrimp with chinese vegetable." It's subtle, so make sure you taste it. I also got two dishes confused. There is a "flaming beef and prawns" that we like. They "fire" the sterno at your table and you wrap it all in rice wraps. It has a strange but good flavor that I can't describe, may have a little bit of sweet to it. There's also a "sizzling beef and scallops" that we get - more of a dish that you scoop over rice, it is a little more savory and peppery. My words above are unclear now that I read them - a third dish is called 'something "prawns over garlic noodles." That's the one with the paste underneath the four huge prawns, fried, and served over the noodles that I can't get enough of.

                            The place was full except for two tables. The ladies were running around as usual. They are very nice to us, but they are very busy and don't have time for a lot of chit chat. They BS a little more when it's slow.

                            Oh, and "33 Brand" beer. They always have it.

                            Good lord, this "reporting" takes a lot of time. I'm out of practice.

                            1. re: rudeboy

                              I *am* new to Austin’s take on Vietnamese food, since I only moved to Austin two years ago. It takes time to chowhound my way through town. But I grew up in the Houston area, which has some of the state’s best Vietnamese cuisine. I can even remember when Kim Son was good (not to stir up that again).

                              Since a few dishes at Sunflower were too sweet for me, careful ordering in the future will be essential. Thanks for doing some fieldwork and posting back with new ideas.


                            2. re: rudeboy

                              some of us in Austin knew there was more to Viet food as far back as the early/mid 80s, maybe before (well, i was lucky to have Vietnamese friends and was eating in their home as early as 1976...oh, Tam, of Tam's Deli). The old Saigon Kitchen which moved around a lot (i think for a while they were in the spot now occupied by Soleil before they moved south of Ben White (where they are now, but i think ownership has changed and I understand the chow is not so great). Saigon Kitchen's menu was pure Vietnamese, and their shaken beef was far better then Sunflower's...far better. They also had pork in claypot with fish sauce and caramel sauce...Vietnamese comfort food which i don't think is on anyone's menu these days--too bad. then Sea Dragon opened and though they had some Chinese on the menu, the Vietnamese was excellent and still is...as good as Saigon Kitchen, but with different offerings. I can still recommend Sea Dragon, as I have before here, with the warning that you have to avoid the Chinese, and stick with the interesting Viet selections... Kim Phung has, except when they first opened, always been second tier at best. Rob Walsh pretty much drove the nail in the coffin back in the early 90s when he declared it to be a "noodle house" which it wasn't but I think they still use that moniker. funny. and then every hipster in Austin started eating there and the food got even worse, but those eating there were convinced they were dining in the best in town, while Saigon Kitchen and Sea Dragon (and the late 888 on Anderson) were within a 5 minute drive.
                              Sunflower is great. MPH, the roasted chicken is almost always succulent and delicious, juicy, etc...though i've had it not be that on occasion. Bahn Xeo is great, salads are great. and so on.... Vietnamese food does tend to often lean a bit toward the sweet, though it should usually be just a hint to balance. That caramel and fish sauce pork is a good example...dig up a recipe and make it at home...it's simple. and worth it.

                              1. re: sambamaster

                                I'm glad that you made Vietnamese friends in 1976 - I wish that I had and tasted their wonderful food that long ago. Well, maybe I didn't discover it as long ago as I should have. Maybe we should have had chowhound back then.

                                My point was that most of Austin's dining population, hipsters, professors, bookish nerds, and housewives (who weren't lucky enough to meet Tam in 1976!) considered the pho houses to be the essence of vietnamese food (which admittedly it is a big part).

                                I did go to Saigon Kitchen a lot starting around 1994 (it was actually in a little strip facing N. Lamar, on the same side as Soleil, but a bit south near where that Hue place was - there is another Asian restaurant there now). I don't remember what I used to eat there (other than charcoal pork and lemongrass), but I remember liking it, and thinking it was different and better than all chinese places at the time. I clearly remember, when it moved (south) away from my work and home, that I wish I had gone there more often.

                                We used to go to Sea Dragon a lot for lunch, circa 1993-1999, but I was with a work crew who wanted to gorge on the chinese buffet....never got the chance, unfortunately, to sample the menu items at the time. And I didn't yet understand Vietnamese food. It seems like Kim Phung started appearing on my radar around then as a place to go, and shortly after, then Tam Tam and the guy with the long haired mole, and then the (Fortune?) Pho place at something like 5700 N Lamar. That's when it seemed like everyone started eating "Vietnamese Food," as did I. But I shortly got bored with pho, and then vermicelli bowls. Everyone had the same thing, it seemed, and the only argument was whether someone's broth was better than others or who had the most meat on their vermicelli. I did also go to Tam Tam many times during that period, but I don't really remember anything on the menu other than what a standard pho house would have. I could be wrong, or if you knew Tam, then you were probably ordering whatever you wanted.

                                Sunflower was what made me say "oh, wow, I get it." For that, I will always than them (included: Soleil). I didn't even try the shaken beef until only a few years ago, and I've always liked it. What made Saigon Kitchen's "far better.....far better?" Is there something I'm missing, like loads of basil, better carmelization, more pepper, better presentation?

                                As far as I know, 888 was open until at least 2003. But perhaps I just didn't see it.

                          2. It has been a good 3 months since I have been, but I just loved their sea bass dish, especially for around $13.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: austinethos

                              After my first visit [reviewed above], I recently returned to Sunflower for an early dinner. Our group ordered some of the same dishes and some new ones. I enjoyed the shrimp with vegetable soup, which rudeboy recommended. I'm guessing it has a vegetable-broth base, given its similarity to water from cooking greens. Although the flavor was subtle, this soup was great for whetting the appetite. The filling of the Imperial rolls was spicier on this visit, as was the seasoning of the shaken beef. The latter actually could have used a touch of sweetness to balance it out this time, along the lines of what sambamaster describes above, but the flavor was good. Unfortunately, the chewy, tough nature of the beef itself marred the experience. As a result, it was a chore, not a pleasure, to eat. The five-spice chicken was subtly spiced, as promised, but unfortunately, the skin was not as deeply browned as it seems to have been when Greg Spence and others enjoyed it. In addition, the seasoning wasn't as aromatic as some versions that I've tried elsewhere. We received hacked-up pieces of both white and dark meat, which seemed to be about half a chicken's worth. All long bones had been removed. Because the roasted chicken was also dry and slightly rubbery, I found this dish underwhelming. I generally enjoy five-spice chicken, though, and I can see how Sunflower's take on it might be good, under other circumstances.

                              Although I haven't had the best luck with some of Sunflower's signature dishes, things ended on a high note with the flan dessert. Maybe I'll try the sea bass next time.