The Washingtonian’s Cheap Eats Guide might be eating away at my relationship. Since its arrival, I’ve annotated the entire thing, drawing big stars next to the restaurants I’m dying to try and ranking them in order of which ones I’ll go to first. And every weekend without fail, I drive my boyfriend crazy by agonizing over where we should eat. Are we in the mood for El Salvadorian pizza? Or what about Afghan kabobs? Or Tunisian brika? An hour of this usually goes by before we start arguing and he exclaims out of exasperation, “Just decide already!”
But last Saturday, after braving the heat during the Caribbean parade and wolfing down some of the spiciest jerk chicken around, a miracle happened. When dinnertime rolled around, I knew exactly what I wanted to eat–Vietnamese. And I knew just the place, which I had circled and starred in my sacred Cheap Eats guide: Minh’s, a Vietnamese restaurant near Court House which the Washingtonian described as “masterful with a fryer and deft with rice and noodles.”
Located on the bottom floor of an office building, Minh’s is pretty unassuming from the exterior. The interior reminded me of a 1980s Asian-style hotel ballroom, with floral silk covered chandeliers and white table cloths. The atmosphere was pleasant, with several table occupied by families and friends catching up on each other’s lives and sharing Minh’s excellent Vietnamese cuisine.
We started off with the shrimp cakes ($7.25), which contrary to my initial assumption, are not actually cakes at all. They’re fritters of whole shrimp interspersed with shredded yam and potato, deep fried to a golden crisp–miraculously without a trace of grease. The accompanying fish sauce and greens (lettuce, mint leaves, and cilantro)–a hallmark of Vietnamese cuisine–added sweetness and freshness to the dish. My recommendation is wrapping the fritters in the greens, like a burrito, and dipping it all in the fish sauce–absolutely delicious.
For our main courses, we ordered grilled shrimp and pork with thin noodles ($12.75) and lemongrass chicken ($11.50). The pork and shrimp absorbed the smoky, earthy flavor of the charcoal and was tempered, once again, by the accompanying greens and fish sauce. The noodles provided a nice chewiness and starch to the dish. Plus, it was certainly enough for 2 people to share, especially considering we still had another course to go!
The lemongrass chicken was, simply put, to die for. Cooked slowly in a clay pot, the chicken absorbed the complex, layered flavors of the marinade. Though the kitchen wouldn’t reveal the ingredients in their exquisite marinade, I detected soy sauce for saltiness, fish sauce for sweetness, lemongrass (obviously) for aroma, and red pepper flakes for heat (and there’s probably more ingredients that my inexperienced palate couldn’t discern).
My favorite part of the dish, however, had to be the onions. They soaked up the marinade even more so than the chicken, and tasted like they had been drowned in the most delectable nectar of the gods–I’m telling you, they were that good, especially over steamed white rice!
Since every course at dinner was fantastic, we decided to ignore our widening belt lines and order dessert. The kitchen ran out of our first choice–banana flambe over vanilla ice cream–so we opted for sweet mango sticky rice with coconut milk and mango ($5.00). Sadly, that was a mistake. The rice was more hard than sticky, and the coconut milk had no flavor. The fresh mango was the dish’s only saving grace.
Despite this disappointing end, the meal was on the whole superb. Minh’s affordable prices, vibrant Vietnamese cuisine, and vast menu (which includes over 100 items!) make it a destination that DC foodies won’t want to miss. And even though it’s crossed off my list, and there’s still more Washingtonian Cheap Eats restaurants left to check out, I won’t argue with going back for another meal at Minh’s.
2500 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201