Having lunch with friends is hard enough to do without having to pick a restaurant. Sometimes it helps to take yourself outside of your Flingers comfort zone and take a chance. Granted, I'm not about run out and seek five star roasted tarantula or any other truly exotic delicacy, but when my pal Clif suggested Vietnamese, I was interested.
I had never eaten Vietnamese food, but have been exposed to enough Asian cooking to have my curiosity piqued. There are several joints of choice in Indy, but for the money and the selection, Clif said that Saigon was one of the best.
Off the beaten path and tucked into an unassuming humble strip of stores off of Lafayette Road, Saigon would probably pass unnoticed from the mainstream dining crowd, which is just fine by me. Not much larger than your average Subway, Saigon loses all of the trappings of pre-fab dining and gives you what you really want: food and lots of it.
The menu offers well over one hundred items to choose from; appetizers, vegetables, soups of all kinds, pork, steak, chicken, fish - even a catch of the day at market price. Even though Clif and his girl Maura had been to Saigon plenty of times, we still took a good ten minutes going over the menu.
Eventually I settled on the spicy crispy chicken. I was informed that "spicy" in Vietnamese really doesn't mean spicy like most people would think of spicy. Thai or Indian food, to steal a cliché, would get up off the plate, come down and kick the ass of Vietnamese spicy food. But that doesn't mean it isn't good. The chicken came in a brown glaze, served with baby corn, bell peppers, carrots and onions mixed in. Evidently I had ordered a Chinese dish at a Vietnamese restaurant. Oh well.
Clif had a beef noodle soup called Pho, while Maura chose a combination grill platter. Clif's soup was served with a large side of basil leaves, still on the stems. The leaves were quickly picked and dropped into the soup. As a second additive, Clif asked for some tripe. Tripe? What the heck is that?
Wikipedia defines tripe as "a type of edible offal made from the stomach of various domestic animals". Sounds yummy! But evidently it's more for texture than taste. Think of it as a rubbery chewy substance with little raised bumps across the surface. It is virtually tasteless and entirely edible, as long as you don't think about its origin.
Maura's combination grill platter was full of freshly sliced lettuce, carrots and plenty of grilled shrimp and beef. On the side came a stack of spring roll wrappers, with which you could make your own rolls. The beef itself was very tasty. It was definitely right off of a real grill, with real fire and real char.
For an appetizer, we had ordered a selection of small wrapped and rolled items - crab Rangoon, very hot fried and un-fried spring rolls and finally, something called a rocket shrimp. It was a small roll with a full shrimp inside. The shrimp had been fried and was pretty darn tasty.
All in all, Saigon gets good marks - huge portions, friendly staff, wide selection, and prices starting around five dollars - without all of the bland corporate fluff that makes pseudo-Asian places like PF Chang's or BD's Mongolian BBQ more American than McDonalds. If you're really into the food, you can always slip next door, to the Saigon Market, where freezers of fish and pears the size of your head await.
3103 Lafayette Rd.
Related LinkIndy Ethnic Food
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