A couple weeks ago I gave Viet Express, a newish café in the Story Road Little Saigon district a try. I had spotted the awning a couple months ago while on errands at Grand Century Mall, which shares the same block. On first glance, I thought it might be a French-style bakery, but it turns out to be a bistro-like eatery with Vietnamese classics and some French offerings.
It’s not easy to find if you’ve not been here before. On the corner of McLaughlin and Story roads, Viet Express is tucked into the back corner of the building and not visible from the street.
The day's specials are posted on the white board outside. The offerings range a little wider than would be expected for such a small place.
As can be seen on these front and back images of the menu, the cooking has a Vietnamese and French side. For all the attention to other details and the décor of this contemporary bistro, e.g., black marble tabletops, these photocopied menus seem haphazard.
The other customers seemed to be Asian ex-pat yuppies with a smattering of ladies who lunch with table conversations alternating back and forth easily between Vietnamese, English, and Cantonese. With glossy photos of menu items overhead and the L-shaped counter that takes up most of the space, Viet Express has all the look of a chain or franchise operation. However, the young woman who seemed to be in charge assured me that this was the one and only one. The space is somewhat congested with the largest table seating six. For larger parties, several tables can be grouped together to serve 10 to 16. Open only a few months, it has been successful enough that it will be expanding to more space next door for more seating and table service, and keep this smaller side for a fast food concept.
When I sat down, a tantalizing order of the lobster noodles was served to the table next to me. I asked the female customer if it was good, and when she recommended it, I decided to order the tôm hùm xào mì mềm (lobster noodles), $11.99, from the specials menu too. Available with crispy or soft egg noodles, it includes what I added up to be half a lobster stir-fried with celery, bell peppers, onions, and lots of ginger and black pepper. While the noodles were quite oily, this was a tasty dish with a very fresh lobster.
I also had an iced coffee, which was very smooth and concentrated, and came close to the perfection of Vung Tau’s. I hadn’t noticed earlier, but most tables had the house tea, served in a clear glass pot to show off the colorful goji berries, dried jujubes, chrysanthemum flowers, and other aromatics.
This first meal was satisfying enough that I would be eager to return to try more. I hope that chowhounds in the South Bay and the Viet Lunch Group give it a whirl and share their experiences here.
Lemon Grass (formerly Viet Express)
1143 Story Rd, San Jose, CA 95122
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