When I lived in Philadelphia, one of my favorite haunts in the Chinatown area was always Vietnam Palace. I had many great dinners with friends there; we loved the reasonable prices, the vegetarian-friendly options, and the fact that we never were rushed and could feast over several hours while enjoying good company and conversation. My sweetie and I also had our first date there, over 8 years ago, as it turned out we both were fans of the restaurant. So, it certainly has a lot of great personal connections and memories to me.
A friend was in town this weekend and as we were going to a show at the Trocadero, Vietnam Palace seemed like a perfect place to meet for dinner beforehand. So it was my first chance to dine there in perhaps about 2 years’ time as I’m rarely in the area these days since moving to South Jersey.
Little has changed inside since then, I noticed, entering on an early Saturday night. I was a little disappointed to find they were out of sake for the night, as their sake cocktails were always delicious and a nice change of pace from typical martini offerings. The menu, fortunately, hadn’t changed at all and still had all of my old favorites: fresh tofu rolls with bean sprouts, lettuce, mints, vermicelli, fried tofu, peanut sauce; the crispy crepe stuffed with shrimp, chicken, bean sprout & onions; the massive vermicelli combo plate with charbroiled chicken, shrimp, meatballs, stuffed grape leaves, and crispy spring roll. But I was determined this time to order some different items for a change and explore more of their offerings, after all of these years.
To start with, we shared two plates: one I simply couldn’t miss out on because I love it so much, the stuffed grape leaves, another I’d never had before: green papaya salad with fried tofu. The grape leaves were just as good as I remembered: delicious little cigars full of charbroiled meat, perfect with the house dipping sauce and a little touch of Sriracha on the side. The papaya salad was huge and had a nice clean, fresh taste to balance the smoky-tasting meat.
We could barely finish half of each of these appetizers and were already getting full before our entrees arrived. We both chose to try the Salt-Battered Squid, which has been on my to-try list at Vietnam Palace for ages. My only regret now is waiting so long to ever order this dish! This was seriously addictive in flavor and texture: crispy, chewy, with a soft interior that just burst with flavor on every bite. Anyone who loves “fried calamari” should love this dish, which was served on refreshing crisp greens with some stir-fried peppers and onions beneath. The calamari was perfectly fried and not greasy; indeed, even after having such a large meal we both felt full and satisfied without feeling sleepy and sluggish – a good thing as we had four hours of standing on our feet for the concert ahead of us.
Our total bill with generous tip was just about $78 for all of the above plus two sides of brown rice, one beer and two glasses of wine. All told not bad for such a feast, and it was too good to leave any leftovers behind. I ended up running to the Wawa to put our leftovers on ice in my car before going to the concert, with enough food for leftover for another delicious meal at home. I’m going to do my best not to take 2 years to return to Vietnam Palace as it’s too good of a place not to get to more frequently.