Name: Vientiane Café
City: Philadelphia, PA
Place: 4728 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143
***** – “Oh mamaaaaa!”
$$$$ – Damn, you sophisticated!
One of my first memories of Philadelphia and West Philly, my current home, is my first time at Vientiane. My great friend Ethan is a native of West Philadelphia and in introducing me to the neighborhood, he decided to take me to Vientiane Café. He told me the story that this restaurant started with a tent selling in a yard and it became so popular that evolved to become a restaurant. Walking inside, you get the feeling that this is a hot date spot. There are couples galore dining to some fine Laotian/Thai cuisine.
Vientiane Café has a plethora of yummy appetizers, but my favorites are the “Naam Salad” and the “Sticky Tamarind Tofu.” However many people you go with here, these two appetizers will tickle your fancy and get your meal off to an “Ohhhhhh Mamaaaaaaa!” start. The “Naam Salad” consists of marinated rice with coconut flakes mixed in with cilantro, green onions, scallions, lime juice, and peanuts. It is served with lettuce leaves that you take to grab some of the salad to make a sort of lettuce wrap. That first bite is pure magic. Ohhhhhh Mamaaaaaa! The marinated rice mixed with the lime juice and coconut flakes provides a divine flavor combination of savory and sweet. The salad is tossed so well that all ingredients are present in every bite. The cilantro adds an extra kick and the peanuts give it all a little extra crunch. The thick, firm lettuce leaves hold everything inside for a perfect wrap.
The “Sticky Tamarind Tofu” is a delicious delight. The sticky tamarind sauce is thick and has an enveloping, sweet taste that combines wonderfully with the crisp tofu. The tofu is well-done with a slight fried crisp on the outside and a soft, almost buttery inside. There is almost always left-over sauce and it’s magnificent to clean it up with the small carrot, lettuce, onion, and cilantro scraps that are scattered on the plate. The sauce is that good that you can just eat it alone and it coats your stomach with a yummyness that prepares you for your main course. Note that both of these appetizers are vegetarian. Those who know me know that I love being a carnivore and I seldom have dishes without some sort of meat. So, the fact that I’m endorsing two vegetarian dishes to start your meal really highlights how good these two appetizers actually are.
I’ve tried numerous main course entrees here and all have been spectacular. You can’t go wrong with any choice. One of my favorites, however, is the “King’s Soup.” This filling coconut milk-based soup is filled with vermicelli noodles, lettuce, scallions, bean sprouts, shredded carrots, basil, and your choice of chicken, minced pork, or tofu. I like it with chicken, because white meat matches best with the taste of the coconut milk of the soup. I love this soup as a whole because the soup is distinct and unique from any other soup I’ve had. The soup is super creamy and almost a like curry, but not quite as thick or overpowering. It has a definite spicy kick, but the bean sprouts help cool it down and dull the spices a bit so it doesn’t get too hot to eat. The vermicelli noodles are plentiful and as in any good soup, Vientiane Café makes this with a good noodles to meat and veggies ratio. You don’t want to have a ton of noodles at the end, with little meat and vegetables to accompany it. On the other hand, you don’t want to have a ton of meat and vegetables at the end with little noodles left. You want to get done at the same time with all the ingredients and have just a tad bit of soup left at the end and that’s what you get here. Another reason that I love the King’s Soup is that if you have a little bit of soup left at the end of the meal, you can bring it home and pour it over rice the next day for a tasty follow-up, leftover lunch. The soup is delectably creamy and is a perfect sauce for rice. When you can extend an incredible meal for two days, you can’t go wrong!
Altogether, this meal surely earns the ***** – “Oh mamaaaaa!” rating. My only major complaint is the prices. As Vientiane Café’s popularity has skyrocketed, so have the prices. The appetizers are reasonable at around $7, but the “King’s Soup” and other main entrees cost $13.95 with meat. Just because they have such great demand, they have been able to raise prices without losing their fan base. Thus, Vientiane Café earns the $$$$ – Damn, you sophisticated! rating. Because of its classy nature, moderately-high prices, yet always dependable good dishes, Vientiane Café has become our go-to spot for birthdays and other special occasions. It was a wonderful welcome to West Philly eating here and if you’re celebrating a special day, this is the place to go. Come here and eat and if you’re not filled with glee, your meal is on me!
Special thanks to Ethan for introducing me to this lovely restaurant and the whole crew for many great meals for many great occasions here!