New Saigon
Mark Manger
Kim Ba's menu is huge (and most of it in Vietnamese), listing a range of regional dishes that offer a whirlwind tour from the Highlands down to the Delta and back again. Even after many visits, we have yet to find a single thing that we wouldn't eat again (and again and again). The fat shrimp wrapped in grilled flank steak are fantastic, as is the chicken in chile paste; the fat spring rolls are the best we've ever tasted. If the house specializes in anything, it's marinated and grilled meats, turning out several dozen varieties a day. We've eaten Vietnamese food at every possible opportunity for decades and didn't think we could be shocked by anything coming off the line, but Kim Ba has shown us that there's a lot more to learn about food in general -- and Asian food in particular.

When you order Vietnamese coffee at Pho 79, the waiter warns you that it's strong. When he brings it to the table, he warns you again that the house makes it powerful, and to be careful. And after waiting for the peaceful drip-drip-drip of the tin filter to finish and the hot coffee to bleed down through the ice to the layer of sweetened, condensed milk on the bottom of the glass, you taste it and know that the waiter had only your best interests in mind. This stuff is like drinking sweet, coffee-flavored crack: It's addictive, it's cheap, and one glass will pin your eyelids back to the top of your head for twelve hours. So take your waiter's advice and be careful: This stuff ain't for amateurs.

When you order Vietnamese coffee at Pho 79, the waiter warns you that it's strong. When he brings it to the table, he warns you again that the house makes it powerful, and to be careful. And after waiting for the peaceful drip-drip-drip of the tin filter to finish and the hot coffee to bleed down through the ice to the layer of sweetened, condensed milk on the bottom of the glass, you taste it and know that the waiter had only your best interests in mind. This stuff is like drinking sweet, coffee-flavored crack: It's addictive, it's cheap, and one glass will pin your eyelids back to the top of your head for twelve hours. So take your waiter's advice and be careful: This stuff ain't for amateurs.

Since it moved into this stand-alone strip-mall space in 1993, Chez Thuy has been offering history lessons told in food. It's a casually shabby clearinghouse with menus as thick as a world atlas, each outlining the story of the cuisine of Vietnam, which, in the historical record, reads like a murderous, ill-fated yet oddly fortuitous collision of cultures and a thousand spices. When the French first came to Indochina, they did so with guns, funny hats and an idea of colonial law absolutely antithetical to the Southeast Asian way of life. But their coming also marked one of those strange periods where complementary vectors of food and politics cross, because the French, being French, brought their chef's knives along with their trench knives, which changed Vietnamese cooking forever. The Vietnamese took to French haute cuisine like nobody's business, fusing it with their own already highly developed culinary tradition -- and the rest is delicious history. Chez Thuy's menu reflects the mingling of the French and Vietnamese obsessions with food in the best possible way.


Since it moved into this stand-alone strip-mall space in 1993, Chez Thuy has been offering history lessons told in food. It's a casually shabby clearinghouse with menus as thick as a world atlas, each outlining the story of the cuisine of Vietnam, which, in the historical record, reads like a murderous, ill-fated yet oddly fortuitous collision of cultures and a thousand spices. When the French first came to Indochina, they did so with guns, funny hats and an idea of colonial law absolutely antithetical to the Southeast Asian way of life. But their coming also marked one of those strange periods where complementary vectors of food and politics cross, because the French, being French, brought their chef's knives along with their trench knives, which changed Vietnamese cooking forever. The Vietnamese took to French haute cuisine like nobody's business, fusing it with their own already highly developed culinary tradition -- and the rest is delicious history. Chez Thuy's menu reflects the mingling of the French and Vietnamese obsessions with food in the best possible way.

Le Central gets knocked around a lot for things it doesn't do wrong. People complain about the service, saying it's snooty -- when it's actually just French. They grumble about long waits on lunch service when the house is full -- which really means the place is popular. But the one thing nobody ever seems to complain about is the food: lovingly rendered classic French bistro cuisine. Through it all, the kitchen just keeps turning out giant bowls of mussels and never-ending frites, woody onion soups, fantastic lardon salads, haute classics like escargot and rustic masterpieces, all paired against a good vin ordinaire wine list and served in one of the most casually romantic dining rooms in town. Owner Robert Tournier has weathered a lot in the last couple of years -- staff changes, a remodel, the abortive anti-French backlash of 2003 -- but Le Central has survived it all and come back stronger than ever.


Le Central
Le Central gets knocked around a lot for things it doesn't do wrong. People complain about the service, saying it's snooty -- when it's actually just French. They grumble about long waits on lunch service when the house is full -- which really means the place is popular. But the one thing nobody ever seems to complain about is the food: lovingly rendered classic French bistro cuisine. Through it all, the kitchen just keeps turning out giant bowls of mussels and never-ending frites, woody onion soups, fantastic lardon salads, haute classics like escargot and rustic masterpieces, all paired against a good vin ordinaire wine list and served in one of the most casually romantic dining rooms in town. Owner Robert Tournier has weathered a lot in the last couple of years -- staff changes, a remodel, the abortive anti-French backlash of 2003 -- but Le Central has survived it all and come back stronger than ever.

Every visit to Brooks Smokehouse is a two-for-one treat. Not only do Ronald and Louella Brooks serve some of the town's best BBQ in their odd little spot, but they also dish up fried gator, good Frenchy frogs' legs, fat boudin sausages and a stellar, tomato-heavy crawfish étouffée. The Brookses originally hail from Louisiana, the cradle of Cajun cooking; lucky for us, they didn't leave any flavor behind when they brought that fiercely regional cuisine to the Mile High City.

Every visit to Brooks Smokehouse is a two-for-one treat. Not only do Ronald and Louella Brooks serve some of the town's best BBQ in their odd little spot, but they also dish up fried gator, good Frenchy frogs' legs, fat boudin sausages and a stellar, tomato-heavy crawfish étouffée. The Brookses originally hail from Louisiana, the cradle of Cajun cooking; lucky for us, they didn't leave any flavor behind when they brought that fiercely regional cuisine to the Mile High City.

The best love affairs start in the most surprising ways. A glance, a kiss or -- in the case of India's Restaurant -- just one taste of the most delicious, beautiful, shocking boti masala. And from there, things only get better. The dining room, which is decorated as though the owners were determined to shoehorn a thousand years' worth of proud culture onto the walls, is full of the warm smell of tandoori ovens, and the product of those ovens comes out in huge, heaping plates of meats stained deep red by the spices. Every bread is a comfort, every sauce a careful balance between heat and sweetness and cold. And because the menu is so deep, offering a wide array of the diverse regional cuisines of the subcontinent, your affair with India's never has to end.

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