A mini-Vietnamese village is a just a metro ride away. Well, it may not be a traditional village, but Eden Center is not only a place to chow down on some phở, but also to learn about Vietnamese culture. Although it may look like nothing more than an overcrowded strip mall, what you’ll come to find is that inside each and every shop you’ll be immersed in a different experience.
From food in numerous restaurants to different shops selling all sorts of knick knacks, I’m always amazed to find something new each visit. Each and every restaurant is different from the next but always stays true to the Vietnamese style of cooking.
For those of you who aren’t phở junkies, here’s the Vietnamese cuisine low-down. It utilizes a number of different Southeast Asian ingredients, from lemongrass to fish sauce, while always incorporating fresh garnishes like chilies, mint, scallions and Thai basil for a taste bud explosion.
Located just a metro ride away from College Park, this mecca for Vietnamese cuisine is your one-stop destination for some major restaurant-hopping. You can expect to find popular dishes like phở to the noteworthy bánh mì sandwich, and also learn what Vietnamese cuisine is really about. I recommend making a day out of it to really explore what Eden Center has to offer. Most restaurants will only serve their specialty dishes, knowing that their customers are looking for quality in a select number of dishes, rather than pleasing them with an array of various choices. With countless eateries, Eden Center serves as a true culinary and cultural tour of Vietnam.
The Restaurants: Where to Go to Get Your Fix
Pho Xe Lua
The quintessential dish of Vietnam has to be phở. For those unfamiliar with the dish, it is comprised of a bed of rice noodles, an assortment of beef cuts, an aromatic beef broth and topped with a garnish of onions, cilantro and scallions. As a common dish throughout Vietnam, the mark of a well-established phở house is the scent of the broth hitting you immediately as you enter the doors. The phở here is particularly good because they have found a happy balance between the amount of noodles, toppings and broth, while other restaurants tend to overload your bowl with noodles. For me, the only way to really judge how good a restaurant’s phở is by how good its broth is. Pho Xe Lua does a really good job here as well; it has a clear, almost consommé-like broth.
At Phung Hoang, you’ll find my favourite dish, bún bò Huế. This is phở’s fiery cousin originating from central Vietnam. While phở is lauded for its subtle flavors, bún bò Huế is very much an in-your-face dish. The broth is spicy and very flavourful since it’s made of pork, beef, shrimp paste and lemongrass. Aside from the beef you’ll find in this dish, you’ll be getting a healthy dose of pig’s feet as well – trust me, it’s better than it sounds.
Banh Mi So 1
While France has the Croque-monsieur and Mexico the torta, Vietnam has the bánh mì. Each country has got their own unique sandwich, but what makes the bánh mì so unique is that it draws influence from French cuisine while also incorporating Vietnamese ingredients. Upon entry into Banh Mi So 1, which means “the number one bánh mì,” you’ll immediately smell the aroma of French baguettes being made on site. Instead of buying their bread, they take the time to make their baguettes daily. The menu ranges from the assortment of Vietnamese cold cuts to the popular grilled pork. What really makes the bánh mì stand out in comparison to any other sandwich is the amount of fresh veggies that are added to each sandwich. You won’t find your customary lettuce or tomato. Instead, you get a cucumber spear, a couple of jalapeños, a heaping amount of fresh cilantro and of course, some pickled daikon and carrots.
If you’re looking for a restaurant that serves a little bit of everything, Huong Viet is the place to go. From the various rice entrees to some of the more specialty dishes of Vietnam, you’ll be able to find most of them at this restaurant. Something I would highly recommend is the bánh xèo, a crispy Vietnamese crepe made of mung beans, bean sprouts, pork, shrimp and scallions. It is served alongside lettuce leaves and other herbs in addition to the house-mixed fish sauce. At first glance, it looks like it would definitely be a fork and knife operation, but if you really want to eat like the locals, you’re gonna want to get your hands a little dirty. The lettuce leaves serve as your wrapper for you to make a lettuce wrap, add all the herbs you desire and then some of the crispy crepe and dip into the fish sauce.
Thanh Son Tofu
The name of the restaurant says it all (control yourself vegetarians): TOFU. Thanh Son Tofu is similar to a food court because you are able to literally point to what you want to eat. All the food is behind display windows, ready to be eaten. All you need to do is figure out what you want to eat while trying not to salivate all over the place. In addition to tofu, they also serve up traditional Vietnamese sticky rice and number of different Vietnamese desserts. All the tofu is made fresh and depending on your order, you can gets some filled with fungus, lemongrass or plain. The selection of sticky rice is unique ranging from the savory and the sweet. But what I always go for is the bubble tea. This isn’t your ordinary bubble tea though. At Thanh Son Tofu, it’s similar to a smoothie. They make sure to use fresh fruit and then add the boba as well as some lychee jelly. Flavors range from the more approachable fruits like strawberry and mango to the more exotic like lychee and durian, the notorious fruit that Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods can’t even handle. Definitely a great place to grab some dessert or just some bubble tea to hold on to as you continue to explore the rest of Eden Center.
Location: 6751 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22044
Hours of Operation: Sunday – Saturday 10:00am – 10:00pm (most restaurants)