I love Vietnamese food. I am not biased or anything. I just have great taste, and I know Vietnamese food is the best (slightly kidding here). My favorite spot to hit for great, authentic Viet dishes is Eden Center, in Falls Church, VA.
There are several go-to restaurants in Eden Center: Viet Huong, Hai Duong and now Rice Paper. The food is delicious and inexpensive, and the restaurant is modern and stylish, at least for Eden Center standards. My parents tried Rice Paper when it first opened, and liked it so much they picked it as the lunch spot for the first time they met my then-boyfriend Ben. This extremely white Midwestern boy was so nervous about meeting my parents, and so eager to try all the ethnic food they ordered that he accidentally snapped his chopstick in half while trying to eat his snail appetizer. Rice Paper is also my go-to Eden Center with the fake roomie, A. Our tradition during the warmer months consist of me attempting to do a long run at the ass-crack of drawn (by “ass-crack of dawn,” I just mean before 9am, which is approximately 3.5 hours after dawn), followed by a drive to Eden Center for lunch and bubble tea, and then a grocery shopping session at the nearest international supermarket for things such as fish sauce, quail eggs, kimchi, and dried anchovies.
In terms of my favorite dishes at Rice Paper (which is hard to do, since I have actually never ordered something I did not enjoy scarfing down):
- I love the quail appetizer (Chim Cút Quay). This is my absolutely favorite dish in all of Eden Center. The roasted quail comes out on a pile of vegetables which has soaked up the meat juices so they just slightly wilted. The quail is so incredibly crispy that I find myself munching away on most of the bones as I devour the plump meat.
- My second favorite appetizer is the minced clams (Hến Xúc Bánh Đa) with pork. The baby clams are sauteed with pork, onions and greens, and served with giant pieces of sesame rice crackers. This dish is so satisfyingly salty and goes well with the crispy rice crackers. I like breaking up the rice crackers into chip-sized pieces and dipping it into the warm clams. I should warn you that this dish is definitely on the pungent side from the salty fish sauce, but who’s trying to have a make-out session in the middle of Eden Center anyway?
- For entrees, I also love any of the numerous soup options (the Hủ Tiếu hoặc Mì Đồ Biển is pictured). The aromatic, steaming bowls of broth are filled with meat, and their perfectly cooked noodles always satisfy me. I like to dump all of the vegetables and greens (bean sprouts, lettuce, mint, basil) into the broth and let it sit for a few minutes while everything cooks.
- Now my favorite entree is the Beef Wrapped in Grape Leaves (Bánh Hỏi Bò Nướng Lá Nho). The marinated ground pork is wrapped in grape leaves and charbroiled, then served with Banh Hoi, which are thin white noodles that are squeezed through tiny holes of a metal tool and steamed until they are springy/bouncy and soft. The combination is perfect: I like wrapping up half of a beef roll up with some banh hoi, along with mint leaves and lettuce in the provided rice paper. That way, I get a little bit of everything in each bite, and the oil from the meat and grape leaves covers the banh hoi, adding flavor to every piece of food going into my mouth.
I haven’t even mentioned the Nem Nướng, Banh Xeo, or Chạo Tôm, or any of the other handful of menu items that I have enjoyed here. The best thing to do is just gather up a group of friends, head here after 1pm on a weekend and order as many things as you are in the mood for. Follow this up with some bubble tea next door, and some banh mi’s for your breakfast/lunch/dinner the following day(s). and you are SET!