This is my first post in Chowhound and I'd like to introduce my favorite Vietnamese Restaurant in NoVa area --- Saigon Cafe
Apart from its very generic names, Saigon Cafe does have some excellent dishes on the menu and the dining room has a warm and casual atmosphere, which is completely different from many other Vietnamese restaurant across Wilson Blvd in Eden Center.
Vietnamese cuisine could be divided in 3 parts, Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnamese. What most of us have been enjoying for a long time here in NoVa are Central and Southern Vietnamese cuisine, with Pho as an exception. However, only Southern Vietnamese food made it to restaurants, where Hue' food are mainly sold at Vietnamese Deli, ex: Song Que, Huong Binh... in Eden Center and several other places, which I think is a big mistake.
So... I was a great day for me when my boss took me to Saigon Cafe, I never noticed the place since it used to be a crappy Pho restaurant. I was so fed up with the genetic offerings from numerous Vietnamese restaurant around the area, since I was born in Saigon and only came to the US 6 years ago. I thought finally this place might introduce something new about Vietnamese Cuisine to the locals.
Try all the rice cakes at Saigon Cafe, some might become your favorites, some might not, but definitely ask for "Banh Beo Chen". These are freshly steamed rice cakes (or dumplings??) serve right in their ceramic molds, topped with shredded dried shrimp and "mo hanh" ( green onions cooked in hot oil), serve aside with fish sauce. Despite being a simple dish, Banh Beo Chen at Saigon cafe is very delicious and surprisingly better than some I have had back home.
Bun Bo Hue - thick round rice noodles in Beef Broth. This is the "Pho" of Central Vietnam. Many ingredients from Bun Bo Hue are similar with Pho, but the extra lemongrass, shrimp paste, chilli peper, and colorings (a special red oil) give it a whole new character. The protein in this dish is a lot different than Pho as well. While Pho is topped with a variety of steaks, flanks, tendon.... Bun Bo Hue calls for shanks. These are the "biceps" of the cows and other parts that have similar texture, after being cooked for a long time, they become tender yet there's still a distinctive "chewyness" to them - no worries you wont hurt your mouth eating it.
Along with the shank cuts, you might get a small cut of pork leg, these are mainly skin and fat, ask your server to leave them out if you're not used to this type of texture. Many places serve Bun Bo Hue, but none achieve such balance in spices and flavoring such as Saigon Cafe.
Jack Fruit and baby clams salad, great texture, light flavor, definitely a good starter, but be careful if you're not the adventurous type.
The Hue Style Crepe (or pancake), I'm sorry I totally forgot how it's called in English. But the dish is their newest addition and is taped to the back side of the front cover If I'm not mistaken. It's call "Bank Khoai" in Vietnamese. It's somewhat similar to Vietnamese pancakes (Banh Xeo) you might have tried, but with a thicker shell, slightly different filling, and a completely different dipping sauce. Try it to love it !!!
I have other favorites, too, but I'd let you find out for your self.
By the way, their price is moderately low and service is ok.