Lan Viet Market's sister restaurant marries traditional flavors with a modern, minimalist aesthetic.
Bringing the flavors of Vietnam to the masses is an idea that has found firm footing in Central Ohio with a fair number of restaurants opening recently, including Pho Chef and 6-1-Pho. Oftentimes, attempts at adapting Southeast Asia to the Western palate results in an absence of the vibrancy that marks this cuisine. Tot Vietnamnoms, newly situated in Upper Arlington's Kingsdale Center, also believes in the broad appeal of the food, but if early visits are any indication, it has far more faith in the intrinsic appeal of Vietnamese flavors than its predecessors.
This is not to say that Tot and owner Khanh Le play it entirely straight. For example, bun (a cold noodle bowl, $7–$9) is a delicious dish that's traditionally not much to look at—a pile of white rice noodles and some meat covers a vegetable base. Tot moves the veggies to the top, artfully arranges them and maintains the deeply satisfying signature savory and herbal flavors of the dish. Smart.
But, wisely, Tot takes few liberties with the banh mi sandwich ($6–$7) and goes to considerable lengths to execute it well. The mayonnaise and paté are made in house, and the perfectly charred grilled pork is as good as any I've had in Columbus. The sandwich's signature combination of richness and freshness is entirely unadulterated and thoroughly enjoyable.
Tot's pho features high-quality beef and perfectly prepared noodles, but the broth tends toward the thin side. On one visit the owner suggested that some beef fat could be added to increase the broth's richness, a big improvement. A mounded plate of herbs, bean sprouts and lime slices traditionally accompanies pho; here, it is replaced by a small condiment bar containing most of the expected garnishes.
Tot's bright minimalist interior, poppy graphics and counter service share much with its contemporaries, but its commitment to quality ingredients and full flavor stands alone.