Restaurant Review: Lac Viet

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The original Lac Viet is a popular spot in the North Market beloved by diners seeking reliable short-order Vietnamese food. It has limited counter space and a few stools, so most people who flock to it are willing to wait for Lac Viet's versions of pho (aromatic noodle soup) and banh mi (Vietnamese-style submarine sandwiches) only to - with hot food in tow - scramble for a table somewhere in the bustling market to eat them.

With a recently opened Lac Viet out on Bethel Road, that routine has changed. This new, full-service restaurant has a small waitstaff, roomy booths and a pleasant and accommodating ambiance.

A large mural depicting a Vietnamese river village in cool pale green hues occupies one long wall and tinkling, meditative music occupies the speakers of a good sound system. There's also ethnically appropriate knickknacks and artworks rendered in the burnished tones of a tropical sundown.

Foodwise, a few things have stayed the same (you can get spring rolls and phos) and a few things are brand new. It's the latter group - listed under items S-1 through S-5 on the right side of the small menu - that will be the focus of this review.

Banh Mi Pho Bo (S-5, $8) was a clever coupling of scaled-down versions of the first store's go-to dishes. It combined a small bowl of (pho-like) five-spiced beef broth with tender, marinated beef on baguette-ish sandwich (like a banh mi) to form a sort of Vietnamese-style French dip. While I certainly liked the result, I'm not completely convinced the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

However, the excellent Cha Ca Thang Long (S-2, $8) was best when eaten with all of its constituents together. Sort of a Vietnamese take on fish and chips, it presented an enormous amount of lightly floured and curry-powdered catfish given a smoky quick grilling. The fish, which was placed atop a mound of wispy rice vermicelli noodles, was profoundly tender and clean-tasting, if a tad oily.

The idea here - as shown to me by the place's outgoing owner - is to stack the fish up with the dish's other components: rice chips, dry-roasted peanuts and bright green sauteed scallions and dill fronds. I loved that combination of flavors, textures and colors.

Ditto for the satisfying Cuu Nuong (S-3, $9). It paired a generous portion of super-tender grilled lamb curls with fresh mint and "pickled onions" (chopped and raw but tamed by a sort of ketchup). Served with good rice (get the delicate "fried" version), its smoky and sweet tomato saucy flavors came together like barbecue.

Car Ri (S-1, $7) was a huge bowl of light-bodied curry stew in which you choose your protein (I went with hacked, dark meat chicken). The tawny colored, five-spicy broth was deeply flavored with a real-deal chicken stock and slightly thickened - brilliantly - with sweet potatoes.

Like all "S" dishes here, it was delicious and a great value.

Lac Viet Restaurant

1506 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side


Price: $$ ($10-$20 per person)

Cuisine: Vietnamese

Patio: No

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily