Cơm Tấm at Thanh Truc
A hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the southwest wing of Eden Center, Thanh Truc specializes in platters like these: perfectly cooked broken rice topped with your choice of pork products and a fried egg. The #3 special—which includes a peppery slice of pork loaf, dried pork, and grilled pork—is a local favorite. After a dozen meals at Eden Center, it's the one that makes me shake my fist at Eden Center for not being closer to, well, everything.
Just Follow the Signs
Thanh Truc even has a neon sign advertising its expertise in broken rice! If you're not sure which restaurant to visit, look for something like this; Eden Center has them in abundance.
Bun Rieu at Huong Viet
Bun Rieu is a relatively new addition to the massive menu at Huong Viet, an all-around solid choice of restaurant for the uninitiated. A tomato-and-crab noodle soup, this bowl is filled with (among other things) chunks of fresh tomato, a small heap of minced crab meat, bits of chicken, squares of congealed pig's blood, a dab of fish paste, and plenty of fresh vegetables and aromatics. The resulting blend of flavors and textures is sweet, savory, just a bit funky, and altogether intoxicating.
Bun Thit Nuong at Huong Viet
Bun Thit Nuong, the go-to bowl of vermicelli rice noodles topped with grilled pork, is also excellent at Huong Viet. Flanked by pickled carrot and garnished with fresh herbs and crushed peanut, it's a winner for those in need of a little comfort.
Bún Chả Ha Noi at Hai Duong
Somewhat of a northern specialty, this dish complements the more familiar grilled pork with patties of ground pork sausage. Both are left to soak in nước chấm, giving the meats an extra punch of flavor. Hai Duong serves its bún chả with romaine lettuce leaves for wrapping, but rice paper is also available by request.
Bún Bò Huế at Hai Duong
Hai Duong is named after a coastal city in northern Vietnam, and the restaurant's dill-covered sizzling fish special serves as a stamp of regional approval. Still, this central Vietnamese specialty of Bún Bò Huế might be the stronger choice. It's listed as "spicy beef noodle soup." The careful balance of savory, spicy, sweet and funky flavors supports the thick rice noodles and kitchen sink of meats (including one delectable piece of pork trotter) in Hai Duong's recipe.
Egg Noodle Soup With Duck at Hai Ky Mi Gia
On the, um, lighter side of noodle soups (and on the other side of Eden Center) stands Hai Ky Mi Gia. The Chinese-Vietnmese noodle shop specializes in bowls of springy egg noodles, served with a thin but flavorful broth and accompanied by your choice of meats. The option of crisp-skinned duck thigh sits at the top of the list of things that make me happy. So does the fact that Hai Ky Mi Gia turns into a karaoke bar after dinner.
Pho at Pho Xe Lua
This simple bowl of pho at Pho Xe Lua, a minimalist pho joint hidden behind a sidewalk book stand, is a solid cure for the classic craving. While the rare meat isn't guaranteed to show up rare, the broth is a satisfying blend of beefy flavors and star anise, naturally sweet and begging for a fistful of fresh peppers and herbs.
Don't Forget the Alleyways
Thanh Truc, along with many other restaurants, doesn't face the parking lot. Don't forget to explore the interior passages of Eden Center if you make it out. And don't worry; your eyeballs can only explode once at the sight of yet another five Vietnamese restaurants.
On June 19, Eden Center brings together refugees and veterans of the Vietnam War to salute the fallen soldiers and civilians of South Vietnam in a holiday recognized by the state of Virginia.
Fried Tofu and Desserts at Thanh Son Tofu
The parking lot may smell like grilled pork and fish sauce, but vegetarians have no cause for concern at Eden Center. In addition to numerous veg options at omnivore restaurants, Thanh Son offers a full menu of fried tofu, sticky rice, rice porridge, Vietnamese desserts, fruit smoothies, and other meatless treats for the vegetarian diner. The lemongrass chili tofu is especially nice, and just $1 per rectangular cube.
Beef Jerky From Phu Quy Delight
For those craving something strictly meaty, Phu Quy—a friendly provisions shop specializing in all things preserved with sugar and salt—offers several types of Vietnamese beef jerky. The "French Style" (left) is cut from flank steak, with a slightly more tender texture and a musky, beefy taste. The lemongrass chili (right) is more of a standard cut of Vietnamese jerky, offering intensely sweet, savory, and spicy flavors and a meatier chew than its American counterparts.
Pâté chaud at Les Baguettes
Every bakery and cafe is filled to the brim with a variety of take-home treats. This turnover-like pastry is a real gem, boasting fold after fold of thin, crunchy puff pastry and a juicy, savory payload of ground pork.
The entirety of Eden Center is located on Wilson Boulevard, but as you navigate the parking lot you might find yourself navigating by the local street signs.
Say it loud: "I'm full and I'm proud."