It’s such a nondescript place to find unique dishes not served elsewhere.
When I stepped inside Kim Vu Vietnamese Cuisine hidden in the back of Dupont Village shopping center, its plain strip-mall atmosphere didn’t raise my expectations. But after a few visits, it not only blew away those low hopes, it proved to be a place I will not only go to again, but will crave.
There were the typical American favorites: pho noodle soup, spring rolls and tasty iced coffee sweetened with condensed milk. But there were also two types of Vietnamese dumplings that were new to me.
The Banh Nam was a steamed flat rice dumpling wrapped in a banana leaf with ground pork and tiny salad shrimp. It came with a clear, sweet fish sauce to spoon over it. It was tasty, but I preferred the Banh Bot Loc, which was also wrapped in a banana leaf, but was made with tapioca flour instead of rice.
This dumpling’s base was a little gelatinous, so it required a spoon or fork to eat it. The pink bits of finely ground, seasoned pork were cooked almost until a little crunchy and the shrimp were sweet. It was delicious and a must-have for my next visit.
The raw spring rolls were tasty, as were the fried egg rolls, which were packed with pork, but neither held a candle to the Vietnamese dumplings.
The pho was also excellent with perfect rice noodles, tender slices of beef, firm meatballs and the usual sprouts, fresh basil, cilantro, jalapenos and lime. The broth was not too strong so it took on all the floral qualities of the fresh herbs and I drank down every last drop.
The light pork broth was also perfect for Kim Vu’s Wonton Egg Noodle Soup. It was not your normal side bowl of wonton soup – although it, too, was better than the norm with a plethora of wontons – and I enjoyed it even more than the pho.
Like the pho, it was a big bowl of soup with firmer, curly ramen-style egg noodles and many wontons, which were homemade with a yummy beef meatball inside each. The soup also had rich roasted pork and fish cake, both sliced thinly. The fish cake, which had a texture similar to bologna, was deliciously sweet without a bit of fishy flavor. The soup was also seasoned with cilantro and jalapenos, and came with sprouts, greens and lime to add to my liking. I liked all of it, as well as a spoonful of the dark chili paste that was on my table.
This soup also came with a little crispy fried shrimp wonton which was so good I am going to try to order some of them as an appetizer next time.
The two non-soup noodle dishes I tried were also worthy of having again.
The Special Rice Noodles had rice vermicelli, along with either grilled beef, pork or chicken (I chose beef), mixed with shaved daikon radish and carrot. There was fish sauce to pour over it all, along with some greens on the bottom to add crunch to what was sort of a cold noodle salad with warm, tender meat. It would be a great to-go or delivery option (Kim Vu delivers within a three-mile radius); less complicated than the soup but just as delicious.
The stir-fried noodle was similar to common Chinese lo mein. Mushrooms, onion, pea pods, cilantro and fresh, crispy yellow and red peppers joined the noodles, along with either beef, chicken or shrimp. I had a dozen decent-sized shrimp in mine and they were all perfectly cooked. The dish was a little oily from the wok, but that is par for the course when it comes to stir-fried noodles. The sweet prawns and peppers made it enjoyable.
Pretty much everything at Kim Vu was enjoyable. The folks working at this family-run restaurant bent over backward to make sure my every need was met and, even though the atmosphere was stale, there was one cool quirk – a little shrine in the back with vegetables and other food items nestled around it as offerings.
It is a hidden gem that is worth finding, for sure.
Restaurant: Kim Vu Vietnamese Cuisine
Address: 433 E. Dupont Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Kid-friendly: Yes, but no menu
Menu: Flat rice dumpling (90 cents), tapioca dumpling (65 cents), pho ($7.95), wonton egg noodle soup ($8.50), stir-fried noodles ($8.50), Special Rice Noodles ($9.50), iced coffee ($3.50)
Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).