Review: Da Vang Restaurant - Phoenix (w/ photos!)
- Seth Chadwick May 3, 2007 08:08 PM
After goodness knows how many visits to various Thai restaurants around the Valley, it was time for me to get Dad to branch out a bit. Considering that my father was stationed at various bases around Asia during the Korean War, I was a bit surprised at his trepidation at trying other forms of Asian cuisine besides Chinese.
I got Dad to try sushi (a monumental feat that shows I do have the skills to be the next ambassador to somewhere) and, of course, he is now in love with Thai, so I was a bit surprised when he gave me the “Dad look of disapproval” when I mentioned Vietnamese food. “I am not sure about that,” he said. After assuring him that we would not be having some bizarre dish, I allayed some of his fears when I informed him that Vietnam had once been a French colony.
I wasn’t really sure where to take him until I remembered a little divy place on 19th Avenue called Da Vang, which had been recommended to me on several occasions. I was told the place was nothing to look at, but the food was excellent, inexpensive and the service great. So, with Dad in tow, I headed over near Camelback and 19th Avenue, cursing the light rail construction as I went.
We found the place with no problems and it was, indeed, nothing to look at, but the place was quite busy. After parking and entering, we were immediately seated by one of the staff members who would eventually end up being our server. Reviewing the menu, I could see Dad was a bit puzzled, particularly by the bahn mi. I told him to relax and I would take care of the ordering. Since I know what Dad likes and doesn’t like, it was an easy choice.
Our server arrived and I placed our order. We would start with the Cha Gio Egg Rolls ($2.00) and the Goi Cuon Spring Rolls ($2.00). This would be followed by the Bun Bi Cha Gio ($4.75) for Dad and the Pho Ta Bo Vien ($4.75) for myself. I also ordered Dad a Vietnamese Lemonade ($1.75) and a Diet Coke ($0.99) for myself.
As we waited, I filled in the gaps for Dad as to how this cuisine was different and similar to Thai food. He was all eyes and ears as dishes were passing the table and he kept pointing to bowls of Pho and asking what they were.
The interior of the place was spartan at best. There wasn’t much in the way of decoration, but the staff members were efficient and friendly, so we weren’t put off by the lack of atmosphere.
About five minutes after we had placed our order, our Spring Rolls arrived. Sitting in the slightly elastic rice wrappers, the mixture of vegetables, shrimp and pork were inviting. Also brought to our table was a huge plate of lettuce leaves, bean sprouts, cilanto and basil leaves. I showed Dad how to lightly dip these delights in the fish sauce and enjoy. I was pleased these rolls were very cold. So often, I have had Vietnamese spring rolls that end up with rubbery wrappers and limp vegetables because they are room temperature. These were fresh and the shrimp, pork and vegetable filling was outstanding. Dad was enjoying them as well, noting that they would be perfect for a snack on a hot summer’s night.
Only a few moments later, our Egg Rolls arrived. These were blazing hot from the fryer and I again showed Dad how to make these work. Wrapping one in a big lettuce leave and adding a few sprigs of cilantro, I was ready for a bite. The rolls were good. The filling was satisfying, but I thought it could have used just a bit more seasoning to bring out the flavors. The lettuce leaves were ice cold, dark green and crunchy. Dad was struggling a bit with the lettuce while using it as a sleeve for the rolls, but he made due and found the experience quite delicious. “Hey, these are just like real egg rolls,” Dad beamed as I tried to muffle a laugh.
After finishing his rolls, Dad tried his Lemonade. He said it was “different” but loved every drop. The lemonade was both sweet and sour and we both liked the fact that you could adjust the tartness of the drink as our server brought an extra bottle of Club Soda to make the lemonade to our liking.
Before we knew it, our entrees had arrived. Dad’s Bun Bi Cha Gio was a large bowl of rice stick noodles with a chopped egg roll, shredded pork, lettuce, mint, bean sprouts and crushed peanuts. Dad dressed his bowl with a mixture of hot sauce, soy sauce and fish sauce and mixed the concoction together fully. His eyes lit up at the first bite. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “This is really good, but it needs more peanuts.” I took a bite and Dad had put a bit too much fish sauce on for my taste, but it was quite good. I liked the mix of textures and the satisfying nature of the dish. Dad was very pleased.
My Pho Ta Bo Vien was a classic Vietnamese soup. The large bowl of simmering broth perfumed my area of the table and I was busy adding bean sprouts, cilantro and basil leaves and a jalapeño pepper to the soup. I was very happy that the soup also had a hefty portion of sliced beef and meatballs added. After allowing it to stew just a bit, I was ready for a great soup. I wasn’t disappointed. The broth was exceptionally rich and had a wonderful, addictive flavor made even better by the herbs that I threw in for good measure. The meat was not as tender as I would have liked, but had a good taste. The meatballs were heavenly. I offered Dad a bite and while he said he liked it, he was in love with his Cha Gio.
We polished off our meals and our waiter returned to check in on us. At this point, I suggested dessert. Dad was more than happy to try something. So, I ordered the Che Dau Den ($1.50), as well as an Iced Vietnamese Coffee ($1.75) and a Hot Vietnamese Coffee ($1.75).
Our server returned in about two minutes with our dessert and coffees. The Che Dau Den was a tall pint glass filled with crushed ice, black beans and coconut milk. I did a quick mix of the ingredients and took a taste. Fantastic. Three ingredients and an outstanding dessert. The beans were soft and somewhat mushy and the ice and milk made it all sweet, savory and cold. Dad took a bite and smiled. “This is great!” Although, he did admit he initially thought the beans were chocolate chips. “I never knew you could make beans into a dessert,” he said.
We then enjoyed our coffees. Dad loved the super strong coffee stirred into a puddle of condensed milk at the bottom of his cup. After drinking it, he realized that he probably would not get much sleep from the caffeine high. My Iced Coffee was exceptional. I was very happy they didn’t serve it with crushed ice as that would have diluted the drink and I wouldn’t have had that “shock” of strong coffee and sweetness.
Our bill was presented and the total was a paltry $23.77. This was a remarkable value. Our server was completely on the ball and very engaging helping me and my Dad pronounce the names of the dishes in Vietnamese.
We left Da Vang and Dad was very happy. He was quite amazed at having beans for dessert, but even more amazed at how good the food was and for such a low price. I thought the place was a true gem. Sure, it sits in yet another run down, old strip mall, and the interior will never make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, but we were there for the food.
Great food, good service, very inexpensive. That is my kind of feast.
Da Vang Restaurant
4538 North 19th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85015
Hours: Sunday through Saturday - 8 AM to 8 PM
Notes: Ample parking.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
Da Vang is a great place. I've enjoyed the meals I've had there completely. I loved the pho. I go for either the brisket or brisket and meatballs depending on my mood. It's just like all the good Vietnamese places usually are. Nothing to look at, but great food at misprint-low prices. It's just a bit of a pain to get to with the construction. It's the poster child for excellent run-down strip mall eating. :)
Da Vang is where I first learned about pho -- 15 years ago. Now that my work is over on the east side of town, I haven't been to Da Vang in years. I need to get back soon and appreciate this review as a reminder of how consistenly good Da Vang has been over the years.
Excellent, Seth -- had no doubt you would enjoy Da Vang. I believe it's the best Viet place in Phoenix, better than [forget the name -- Pho Bang?] on Camelback at 17th Ave., which John McCain favors. Beyond the pho and the rolls, the banh mi/little sandwiches are very good and the seafood soups, which are very similar to pho, are outstanding. You may have noticed the table by the register covered with pork steam buns in saran wrap. These little monsters are an acquired taste, but at about $1.25 apiece, set a new standard for hearty, savory food value. BTW, did you visit on or after May 1st? Was anyone smoking?
im so glad you liked davangs, its just about my favorite spot to eat..good food, great prices, good service... where else can you get apps, main course, dessert and drinks for 2 for under 25 bucks!!
i'm glad your dad liked it too..i laughed when i read he said the egg rolls were like real egg rolls :) thats something my dad would say!!!
re: Seth Chadwick
I agree. Other than both being "Vietnamese", the comparison really ends there. Justina seems to be going for a more upscale, almost trendy, vibe at Cyclo and the food reflects that. Da Vang is your basic restaurant with the standards. Both succeed extremely well at what they do.
re: Seth Chadwick
I have only been to Da Vang once, and the service was sloowwwwwww (almost painful) and the broth for the beef pho was cloudy. :(
Also, it was eerily empty.
Did I hit it on a bad day/time? It was about 5 p.m. on a Tuesday night.
Now I feel I must give it another chance, but my first go-round wasn't great. Since then, I've been going to Khai Hoan (ugh, despite the terrible construction) and Cyclo when in that area.
The only time I tried Dragonfly I wasn't very impressed, but that was only once. A totally unpretentious little Viet place very nearby that I do like is N'Hat a block to the east, also on the north side of Southern, opposite the college, mostly Viet. clientelle.
And what's going on with the Korean place next door to Dragonfly, Hodori? Anybody know? They keep selling it. The food is still very good, but the last time I was there it was pretty empty and yet they made me wait thirty (30) minutes for the bulgogi lunch special!
Just had my first dinner there based on this review.
8 of us ventured. One had been there before and was a big fan - the rest were newbies... all to this place and some to Vietnamese food.
Lesson #1: Don't go to a chowgathering for Dim Sum the same day - I was already pretty well nourished!
Lesson #2: Can someone please franchise this place all over town? Sandwiches for $2? All the desserts were $1.50? Imported beer: $2.
I don't recall any entree being more that $7ish, which included my giant plate of salt/pepper shrimp - 15 or more whole prawns deep fried and encrusted in a nicely, heavily seasoned light batter. Crunchy enough to each with the shell on.
It's spartan looking - but who cares? The food is great. The service was spot on. I've been a few times to Pho Bang which is also a great value but can sometimes be a bit slow. Da Vang seems to have plenty of help and hit the spot for certain dishes.
I'd give them more props if they had some more BBQ'd options and seafood offerings, but that might require them to jump into a fancier bracket.
8 people. 8 Entrees, 4 or 5 apps, several beers and fancy coffees: $79
2 hours of eating and yapping: priceless Still, cheaper than a movie.
There's something not-quite-right about all vietnamese places regarding the prices. Universally you can get ultra cheap food. i don't know how, but it makes me nervous... but nervous like a beautiful woman makes me nervous, cause I'm not complaining. Do we really want that to be franchised? In Dallas we have a torta place that is delicious and would make an incredible franchise in the Chipotle vain. But maybe that wouldn't necessarily be a good thing. Hmmm... that's a different discussion. DaVang, however, is a cut above the norm. I only got there once, but i still miss it.
Chipotle Grill? Jeez! That place is the worst rip-off of the bastardized San Francisco version of awful Mexican food! Rice and beans in a burro (yes, not burrito) is just a way to sate someone's gut with cheap fiber. Nowhere in Arizona or Sonora, nor, probably in New Mexico, would any authentic cook put these fillers in a burro! Lee's is a clean & great-value operation which still serves traditional ingredients in its French sandwiches. "Chipotlizing" Lee's would do what Luke's did for Italian Beef! Besides, this is already a franchise op.
Kenton, go forth and have a Oaxaca Special at Carolina's. The combination of chorizo, beans, potato, and cheese is a true winner. And no need to get your knickers in a bunch over San Francisco style burritos, it's just as much a regional style as Chicago vs. New York for pizza.
As for burro vs, burrito, it looks like burrito is winning. The Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and Wikipedia all agree that a burrito is food, and a burro is a pack animal. I still call them burros on occasion myself, but the usage at large is definitely slipping.
Carolina's Mexican North
2126 E Cactus Rd Ste 100, Phoenix, AZ 85022
Carolina's Mexican Food Restaurant
1202 E Mohave St, Phoenix, AZ 85034
DaVang is definitely worth a shot. For anyone willing to go there, it's not MUCH farther to drive to 43rd Ave, just south of Thomas. That's Pho-43 Express.
If you think DaVang's good....and CHEAP...look-OUT. I know I just had my buddy there with me on Monday for the first time. If it's Viet, and in metro Phoenix, he's eaten there. He was duly impressed!
I tried Da Vang, but many years ago, and I was not impressed. But again, it was many years ago.
When I'm back in Phoenix I usually go to the Pho place on the NW corner of 17th Ave. and Camelback. It is McCain's favorite Vietnamese restaurant, but don't hold that against it.
What I loved about the Vietnamese place on 17th Ave. and Camelback was the grill that they put on the table to cook the very slim and tender slices of beef and the shrimp.
I LOVE the sweet fish sauce, and I think the chao gio (spring rolls) are better than anything I've found in L.A.
I love their pho too.
I also love the Thai market in the same strip mall at 17th Ave. & Camelback (well, I hope it's still there) I used to get the packaged Thai noodle soup, and the Thai chilis (those tiny ones that they refer to in Thailand as "little sh*tters") and some nampha (fish sauce) and eat it all for lunch.
That's Pho Bang. I haven't been in a long time.
The nearby market used to be called Loi Phat, but I think it may have a new name these day.
I have a lot of affection for Da Vang because it's where I learned pho 101 nearly 20 years ago, but I no longer think it's the best in town. It's good, filling, and cheap, but for freshness and flavor, I've come to favor places like Pho Mesa and Khai Hoan recently.
Davang Coffee Shop
4538 N 19th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85015
Pho Bang Restaurant
1702 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85015