New Saigon's tofu dishes spice up vegetarian eating

New Saigon, a stalwart Vietnamese restaurant on Federal Boulevard, is deservedly popular; even during our between-hours Sunday meal -- and with a plywood walkway to navigate due to some construction work out front -- the restaurant was almost completely full. With a menu that includes typical meats like chicken and pork -- and not-so-typical meats like frog legs -- we weren't sure what to expect, but New Saigon blew us away with its selection of veggie-friendly dishes.

The dining room is slightly upscale for this part of Federal, with cushy booth seats by the window where you can watch the city pass you by, and nice big tables where post-church families settled in for a meal. It seemed like each time a table left, another walked in the door to take its place.

Pictured above is the cary chay, a coconut curry-style dish with straw mushrooms, baby corn, fried tofu, beautifully tender acorn squash, potato and carrot; we ordered it served over white rice, and couldn't even finish half of it. Perhaps that's because we made sure to check out the appetizers.

The goui cuoan chay is a pretty typical dish at most Vietnamese restaurants, but this one had mint, which provided a pop with the tofu, noodles, cilantro and rice noodles wrapped in soft rice paper.

These veggie egg rolls were a meal all by themselves; served with a sweet chili dipping sauce and assorted veggies (lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, bean sprouts), they were a great option for bigger parties who might want to share an appetizer. (A note to vegans: the paper wrapping in the eggroll contains, well, egg.)

The tofu fried rice also contains egg, plus straw mushrooms, bean sprouts, peas and carrots. Our dining companion, who knows from fried rice, proclaimed this the best fried rice he'd ever eaten. Need we say more?

New Saigon is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day but Monday; visit www.newsaigon.com.

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