Good food, a variety of choices and good value await in Little Saigon. 

Don't Miss Saigon

Most of us have a list of a half-dozen or so restaurants that we tend to frequent for various reasons. Eateries close to home or work are often on our list because of their convenience. Others we choose because we like the value or the food; still others we reserve for those occasions when destination dining is in order. Almost everyone has at least one Asian restaurant on the short list, and fortunately there is a representative in practically every neighborhood in the area. So from that standpoint, they offer convenience, and almost all of them also offer good value. Vietnamese food continues to receive good press from those who would have us eat healthfully, but there is another compelling reason to eat it - it's usually very good. In spite of the incendiary charms of Thai food, perhaps because of the subtle flavors and textures, I find a comfort level in Vietnamese cuisine that takes me to those restaurants often. One such restaurant is , a modest restaurant in the Robious Hall Shopping Center in the Midlothian area. Like many strip-shopping-center eateries, it's cavernous with a smattering of thematically decorative items. It does not have much architectural interest, but it is a basically comfortable room. Although the restaurant is about 4 years old, new management has been in place for a few weeks. Like most Vietnamese restaurants the menu at Little Saigon is extensive, with dozens of choices, but it's well-organized for those with a difficulty in making up their minds. If you have experience with Vietnamese food, you'll find the popular favorites. Though most of the appetizer soups ($2-$3.50) have counterparts in other Asian cuisines, crab-asparagus soup suggests the influence of the French presence in Vietnam rather than another Asian influence. And, indeed, the refined flavors of this soup suggest a happy co-mingling of flavors, if not of cultures. Likewise, I prefer the freshness and subtleties of the rice-paper roll over the fried spring rolls. A bowl of steaming noodle soup on a cold winter night can nourish the spirit as well as the body. These soups, eaten by the Vietnamese at any meal, are a filling main dish at lunch or dinner. A bowl of noodle soup with chicken ($6.95) had lots of tender chunks of white meat and a flavorful broth (marred by a heavy hand with the salt). An accompanying platter of fresh vegetables and herbs allows the diner to add as much freshness as he cares. Several different noodles mix with seafood, chicken or beef for soups representing different areas of Vietnam. The contrast of sweet and sour is a well-known and loved Asian combination, but the Vietnamese often pair hot and cold in several dishes that in American parlance would be called salads. Lettuce and other raw vegetables are topped with rice noodles and grilled beef, pork, chicken or shrimp and a scattering of crushed peanuts ($6.95-$9.95), setting up interesting contrasts in tastes, temperatures, and textures. Those who have eaten in Vietnamese restaurants have certainly encountered the do-it-yourself or roll-your-own preparations, perhaps distant cousins to Mexican fajitas. Rice paper provides the wrap for fresh vegetables and meat or seafood ($11.95-$14.95). These rolls are fun and delicious - and the secret to a neat roll is not to put too much filling. Stir-fried dishes ($7.95-$12.95) with vegetables, meat and/or seafood, served with rice, are close kin to other Asian dishes using this method. I liked a special with beef, mushrooms and broccoli that had a pleasantly spicy sauce. Seafood and fish preparations, as in most restaurants, are among the most expensive at Little Saigon ($10.95-$14.95), but even at that, they are not a bad value. You certainly won't go home hungry. Probably many in the Midlothian area know already about Little Saigon. For those who don't, there are two reasons to put it on your short list - location and value. And, oh yes, those good noodle soups.

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