I've been trying to find a good shrimp on sugar cane in Portland, with nothing that I'd call a success. I've been going to Yen Ha for many years, though I think they're a bit inconsistent, and I've found their shrimp on sugar cane insipid and disappointing -- more like a rubbery, vaguely shrimpy corn dog.
Last week we went to Green Papaya on a recommendation from a friend, as she said that she'd seen it on the menu. It was even more disappointing (though the people that were seated next to us seemed really impressed by the "exotic" food). The dish came with a thimble full of bland plum sauce, and instead of the standard assortment of Vietnamese herbs, we got nothing but a fistfull of shredded iceberg lettuce. When I asked the (disappointingly unknowledgeable and absent-minded) waiter if we could get some herbs (for example, many places usually come through with some basil, mint, saw leaf, and tia to) to go in the rice paper wrappers with the shrimp, he returned with a single sprig of basil. A respectful explanation that we were looking for a bit more, perhaps some mint, was met with a curt "that's all they've got back there."
I'd heard that they bring the drip coffee to your table for the ca phe sua da (you know, like Yen Ha does for example), but I instead got a tall, unwieldy glass that I'd swear was filled with some kind of nasty, frappuccino-like canned thing. Though the shrimp itself might have been a minor improvement over Yen Ha's, it was still distinctly sub-excellent.
I have fond memories of lots of herbs, plentiful rice paper wrappers, great sauces, and delightfully spicy, chopped and grilled or broiled shrimp on sugarcane from two different Vietnamese restaurants I visited in San Diego many years ago. Anyone know of anything better around here?