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Seeking Authenic Vietnamese Dinner in MD

I'm looking for a place to host my husband's birthday dinner. Thinking about 20-30 guests. Priority is great, authentic Vietnamese food (in Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring areas). Curious about Ba Le in Rockville. I've read great reviews about the food. How's the ambiance? Any other ideas?

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  1. Yes, I realize that you don't want to hear about a restaurant in Virginia but you really should give Present serious consideration. I believe it is the best Vietnamese restaurant in the United States. Tom Sietsema gives it three stars which, next to Eve, is the highest rating of ANY restaurant in Northern VA. Other than the rush hour you can drive from I 495 & the Rockville Pike in less than 30 minutes. During the rush hour bring a book to read... There are numerous threads for it on here. This is Tom's review of it: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

    United States
    400 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20202

    1. Ba Le is tiny with only a few tables. Zero ambiance--more of a luncheonette type of place. The food, however, is outstanding and reasonable.

      1. You'd take up all of Ba Le. They improved the decor in the last year or two, but as another poster mentioned, it is still a lunchonette sort of place. You may be able to get them to cater.

        1. The only "real" Vietnamese restaurants I know in MD (as opposed to a pho house) are Taste of Saigon and Green Papaya. They're ok but nothing particularly special.

          Dumb question, I know, could you do Burmese instead? Burma Road in Rockville/Gaithersburg is really good.

          2 Replies
          1. re: reiflame

            I would second Burma Road. Really good, authentic Burmese food, but stick to the Burmese menu and don't order off the Chinese. The room is large and pretty.

            1. re: reiflame

              Green Papaya has nice room (I think the food is pretty good, but I wouldn't argue that it's anything particularly special).

            2. how about big saigon a few stores away from Bale in Rockville. The ambiance is ok, big room with lots of tables that could fit the size of your party. not only pho but also a fairly extensive vienamese menu. food is good. love the hole crispy flounder. go up there and talk to them and see what they could do for you

              1. BaLe is DELICIOUS but no ambience, Sorry.

                1. Thanks everyone. Turns out Ba Le says they can hold up to 40 people which is perfect for our party. We'll have the entire room to ourselves and we like the authentic, delicious food part and are OK without the ambiance. It's much more convenient for our guests than Present, although I'm now eager to go there with my husband alone. Am hoping to go to Ba Le this weekend to see it for myself and then make a final decision. Very nice manager willing to work with me on this. (Eager to try Burma Road sometime too but my husband really loves Vietnamese food so I want to stick to that.) Thanks for all the thoughts!

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Ruster

                    Ba Le hasnt been that good lately...Big Saigon used to be good when it first opened but the quality has gone down too...i would just skip both at do Taste of Saigon in the Rockville Town Center....at least the ambiance is good...and they have some good fusion dishes like calamari...the Viet food in this area is depressing...and that includes VA!!

                    1. re: Meechi

                      Respectfully, but I could not disagree more. Over the past twenty years I've eaten at a number of what I believe are the best Vietnamese restaurants in both Northern and Southern CA. I honestly believe that Present is better than any of them. This is the link to a post of mine where I organized a group of people to see just how good Present can be. It was an extraordinary dinner. One that, for me, confirmed my belief in this restaurant's genuine excellence. I might also mention that the chef at Present once won award as one of "the two best chefs in Viet Nam." http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/612792

                      1. re: Joe H

                        I took my family to Present over the weekend to finally see if Present lived up to the hype it was getting. Sadly it didnt. There were hits and misses and the hits werent that high. The good: pineapple under the sea, beef roaming the grass, pretty veggie/fruit carvings...(havent seen those in a restaurant for a while). The bad: Stupid names for classic dishes. (Are they trying to do some psychology on us to make us think its fancier, better tasting food?!), Viet coffee that tastes like chocolate milk (Viet coffee isnt supposed to be shaken!), No Vegetarian dishes, Beef w/ snowpeas that was so overcooked i had to swallow it whole and almost choked, Dry fried fish (how does that happen?). It's a decent place, and the food is presented nicely with fancy garnishes but as for the quality of food it left something to be desired.. If the chef did win some award..he's lost it...I grew up on Viet food, eaten all over VN and Calli...it's not close in comparison...just a lot of good marketing going on.

                        1. re: Meechi

                          Not all that Present has to offer is great, but some dishes are truly excellent IMHO (papaya salad, shaking beef, minced clams, imperial rolls, seafood salad).

                          So there is really nowhere in NOVA that can meet your standards for Vietnamese food?

                          What do you make of Huong Viet--also no good?

                          1. re: Meechi

                            As someone who also grew up on Vietnamese food in Vietnam, and also have eaten Vietnamese food all over CA and Northern VA, I'd still think Present not only gives me the best tasting food, but also the most authentic. There will always be hits and misses, and I do hope I never get to eat the chewy beef you were served.
                            About Vegetarian dishes, they have a few which are basically mixed veggies and tofu in different sauces, please pass, it's not their specialty. You can find much better Vegetarian Vietnamese food at the carry out places in Eden Center not too far away, hope you'll like them.
                            Who says Vietnamese coffee is not supposed to be shaken??? LOL, they even make a special tool to make thick coffee foam in Vietnam, pay a little attention at most Vietnamese coffee vendor and you'll see - I wish they thought of the shaker, which is much faster and more efficient. And the coffee, it is THE BEST Vietnamese coffee to my taste, since I hate the coffee and chicory in the golden boxes all other Vietnamese restaurants in NoVa use. Present actually uses Trung Nguyen coffee, the best coffee brand in Vietnam to date.

                            Note: Huong Viet restaurant is on par with Present when it comes to authenticcally good food. However, Huong Viet is offers mostly family meals, where Present does have a better "restaurant" menu in Vietnamese standard. But I have seen no restaurant in the US that could actually show case the higher Vietnamese cuisine offered in many Vietnamese restaurants in Saigon.

                            1. re: nhim_map

                              I have heard from several friends that apparently the chef is off on Sunday at Present and the level of the experience might be a bit different from other nights.

                              1. re: Joe H

                                That is probably the case. By the way I've just visited Minh's in Arlington last weekend and it was a great meal. Everyone should give them a try.