Tag Archives: Spring Rolls

Mobile’s Yen Restaurant — “It’s Food Pho The Soul”

10 Jan

Yen sign

OK, folks — this one is a bit of a sleeper. Off the beaten path. Run down neighborhood. But, hey, don’t judge a book by the cover. That has long been our M.O. here at Dixie Dining. And it pays off more often than it doesn’t. I have lived in the Mobile area for 4 years now and I spend a good bit of time in my car. I mean, a lot! However, I had never driven this long forgotten stretch of blacktop, found just a few blocks off heavily traveled Government Boulevard. This part of town is certainly not featured in the Mobile Chamber of Commerce print material. Let’s just leave it at that.

Yen front

Just look at the restaurant’s front (above). Pretty sad, huh? Plain old cinderblock construction. A hand-painted sign. Landscaping needs a little work. Maybe more than a little. It’s the kind of place that most folks would drive right past. Yen doesn’t do any local advertising, yet they’ve been around for quite some time now. Over 15 years, in fact. So how does one explain this? Simple. Good food, fair prices, and a loyal local following.

Yen interior

The Dining Room inside Yen

Yen menu

The menu is bare bones too

Yen noodles

Some fried egg noodles to munch on

Yen summer

One of the high points of my first visit to Yen was the Summer Rolls (above). Call ’em what you want — I’m eating these babies any time of year. Super fresh and delicious. The accompanying peanut sauce was quite tasty too. None of the food I sampled at Yen was over the top spicy. The flavors are subtle, yet satisfying. Those who prefer it hot can ask for their food to be served spicy. Or you can just reach for the bottle of Sriracha Hot Sauce that is provided at each table.

Yen Spring

I also tried the crispy fried Spring Rolls (above) — you could tell they were homemade and not stuffed and wrapped weeks/months in advance. The rolls’ wrapping was suitably crunchy and not too thick. That is always a pet peeve of mine — too much wrapper and not enough stuff inside. I was pleased with what I tried here at Yen.

Yen fish

Spring rolls are served with a small dish of housemade fish sauce (seen above).

Yen pho

My main course was the Beef Pho, a delicious soup-like concoction made with beef broth, lean sliced roast beef, green onion, bean sprouts, fresh mint, and more. They offer a choice of a small or large bowl — I opted for small after woofing down the two appetizers by myself. Glad I did order small — the bowl was pretty substantial and I surely could not have eaten much more than that. I later saw the large bowl and it is massive. A couple with light appetites could easily share one of the large bowls of pho. Several varieties are available, so it may take me some time to try them all. Not to worry, I plan on returning with some frequency.

Yen cookie

My post-meal fortune cookie (above) reminded me that “Great thoughts come from the heart.” So does great food. Yen Restaurant has virtually none of the amenities needed to insure success. The location is not great. The structure is spartan at best. But they are cooking with lots and lots of heart. You can taste the love and attention in each bite. And that kind of passion for flavor and authenticity is harder and harder to find in these days of fast food and chain eateries. Make plans to visit Yen in the near future. It’s food PHO the heart — and the soul.

Yen Restaurant – 763 Holcombe Avenue, Mobile, AL 36606

(251) 478-5814; www.yenrestaurant.com

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Friend or Pho? First Impressions of Mobile’s new “Taste of Vietnam”

12 Mar

The new Taste of Vietnam, located on Airport Blvd. in Mobile, AL, opened its doors just a short while ago. Many of us were immediately skeptical. Mobile desperately needs more good ethnic eateries, but this particular location has not exactly been a good luck charm as far as restaurants go. Many have tried, many have died. It’s not necessarily a bad part of town, yet certainly not the most pleasing to the eye. The building itself is pretty large and appears to be an old home at some point converted to a commercial property.

I had recently viewed an episode of TV’s “No Reservations” that Tony Bourdain and his crew had shot in Cambodia. This alone had provided me with ample motivation to give Taste of Vietnam a try. I stopped in on a late Friday morning — just a few minutes before the noon lunch rush. The place was pretty quiet except for some circa 1960s Stan Getz jazz playing softly in the background. This was strike one for me. I dig Getz, but I honestly prefer hearing the home country’s native sounds when dining at an ethnic restaurant.

The interior decor was clean and pleasant enough. Although I will add that it felt like a odd cross between a Chinese buffet and an American Legion Hall. I’m hoping the rather cavernous dining room will begin to feel more finished and lived in as the coming days and weeks pass.

I started my meal with freshly wrapped Spring Rolls ($3.50 for 3 large rolls) stuffed with tiny shrimp and crisp veggies. They were really delicious. Let me re-phrase that … SUPER delicious. You could tell they were just made and the accompanying dipping sauce (an blissful marriage of sweet and spicy) was superb. We were off to a flying start. I was pleased and had a silly grin on my face. My happy demeanor was further stoked by a tableside visit from one of the proprietors. She was a cute, little Vietnamese lady dolled up in a shiny, light blue Asian dress (I believe they are called “Ao Dai” in Vietnam?). She was very pleasant and quite interested in my honest opinions. I inquired if business was good and she responded “Yes, thank God” in somewhat broken English.

My lunch order of Pho (in this case, a beef noodle variety) steeped with basil & spring onion. The portion was massive and a good value at $7.95. This dish could easily be shared by two mid-day diners, but I was determined to polish it off myself. Eating Pho is sort of a “build your own soup” experience. The establishment provides the basic canvas of meat, noodles and broth. You are then encouraged to customize your soup with a variety of provided greenery (basil, cilantro, thinly sliced jalapeno), fiery hot sauce (most often Sriracha), lime wedges, bean sprouts, and sticky sweet hoisin sauce.

This assortment (seen above) of fresh veg, herbs & citrus was provided to build my Pho. I was not the least bit bashful in putting these goodies to immediate use. I went especially heavy with the basil and crunchy bean sprouts. I have learned to be careful about adding too much jalapeno. You can’t go wrong by adding a little (which I did), but bolder diners getting too agressive with jalapeno slices will be subjected to an absolute devil’s brew of fiery hot broth. This was once my fate and I have learned greatly from that experience. My broth this day, much like Goldilocks’ last sip of porridge, was just right. Yes, I had found a new friend in the Pho at Taste of Vietnam.

I’m hoping that Taste of Vietnam can prove the jinx wrong and make it work in this location with such a checkered past. They do deserve your support. But please don’t wait too long to give them a shot. They need you and your word of mouth advertising right now. Visit soon or don’t bemoan Mobile’s lack of a good Vietnamese eatery. We now have one, so what are you waiting Pho???

Taste of Vietnam – 2400 Airport Blvd, Mobile, AL, Phone: (251)287-0491