Authentic everyday Vietnamese
Ever since Austin Buffet closed years ago, I haven't been able to find a place that serves actual Vietnamese dishes other than the typical pho, bun, or gao. You can get some things at MT, but the selection is pretty limited, and doesn't seem too fresh.
I'm looking for things along the lines of congee, sticky rice, pastries, pate, cha lua (sausage), bahn cuon (kind of like chowfun), jellyfish, fermented stuff, pickled veggies, etc.
I can't think of one place that has all of these, but you can find some of these things at a few different places. For pastries, Tam Deli has some tasty vietnamese pastries. Also check out Baguette house in the Chinatown shopping center for really delicious bahn pate chaud.
Tam Deli also has sticky rice in lotus/banana leaf. And may have bahn cuon.
For jellyfish, I know Sunflower has a special salad (Goi) that is like their Goi Tom Thit (one of my favorite dishes there) but also with jellyfish.
Sorry, but I am at a loss for fermented stuff, and pickled veggies.
Tam Deli & Cafe
8222 N Lamar Blvd Ste D33, Austin, TX 78753
Sea Dragon has a massive assortment of Vietnamese dishes on their menu, beyond the usual pho, bun, and banh mi that is plentiful in Austin. I have not tried it, but I often hear good things about Sea Dragon.
8776B Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758
Fresh Tofu in the Chinatown Center, besides serving fried tofu in various forms and rice plates, sometimes has special dishes:
In the refrigerator case, you can sometimes find pickled cucumbers and papaya and occasionally a wonderful huge salad (gỏi) that included sliced shrimp, squid, pork slices, snow fungus, palm hearts(?), thin slices of green apple/pear, red and green bell pepper strips, carrot slices, celery, cilantro, fresh mint, and [in separate containers] lime/garlic/sugar/fish-sauce dressing, chopped peanuts, dried fried onions. $10. Wow!!
When the weather is cold (like now!), they sometimes have cháo lòng, which is congee (rice porridge/soup) with various pork innards and beautifully rich blood sausage.
One day, they had a beef with water spinach and tomato dish, sort of a warm salad.
Unfortunately, these specials seem to appear sporadically and without advance notice!
The tàu hũ nước đường at Fresh Tofu is divine. It seems to have become trendy to complain that you can get a more authentic version of the same thing in NYC, SF, or what have you, but this Austinite will take an order their sweet and custardy ginger caramel tofu any day.
Just one word of warning: they don't take credit unless you spend more than $10, and it's hard to spend $10 there -- their tàu hũ nước đường is only $2. Even after throwing in a couple of pastries, and a block of fresh tofu to cook up for dinner, I still didn't hit $10. :-)
I never went to Austin Buffet, but can't imagine its closing was a great loss...????
You will not likely find all the things you want in one handy location...these have been mentioned, but to elaborate:
Tâm has bahn cuon of various kinds....they can craft it any way you wish. I think she has jellyfish...I'm pretty sure Sea Dragon does... I seem to think she offers a bahn cuon with cha lua, what I call Vietnamese baloney...and very yummy.
Sea Dragon is great if you order off the menu, they have lots of stuff no one else has. Their buffet has given them a bad rep. Ignore it. It is at this point, the longest-lived Viet joint in town (Saigon Kitchen was earlier, but I don't think they are open--at least I know the original owner sold it).
Sunflower can fill in many of the gaps and has some great dishes...as does it's step-child, Le Soleil Restaurant. I think they have some clay pot dishes with sticky rice...
I'm sure there are other newer places that can satisfy other urges...