Walk into Soc Trang and you will be greeted by romantic love songs and ballads, a music style popular in the Vietnamese community. It’s a good first impression.
It’s not a big restaurant, barely a dozen tables, and even though it is barely a month old, there’s quite a lunch crowd on the day of my visit. It’s always another good sign.
If you are new to the Vietnamese experience, you are in for a very special adventure. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain called Vietnam one of his favorite places on Earth, and described pho, the beef noodle soup that is the national dish of this southeast Asian country, “a bowl of steaming goodness.” In my opinion, you could not ask for a better recommendation.
For newbies, the array of condiments on the table may be cause for bemusement, but don’t worry. Options and add-ons are a big part of this amazing cuisine. Soy sauce will be no surprise, but fish sauce, sriracha, hoisin, pickled jalapenos and, at least at Soc Trang, a delightfully spicy chili sauce, homemade by the way, all wait to be tried, but don’t just start adding dollops of this and that! Take your time, and try a little of the chili sauce, stir it in and then taste. Proceed with caution! Too much of something just might ruin that magnificent bowl of pho you ordered.
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The menu is quite large, but it is composed of the basics, just served in different combinations: rice, noodles, fried rice, combined with vegetables, chicken, seafood, pork and beef. It’s a simple idea, but the magic of Vietnamese cuisine is in the crunchy, never overcooked vegetables that make for a contrast in texture, hearty noodles or steamed white rice, and sauces that are rich, spicy and endowed with a delightful depth of flavor, layered, you might say. The result is hearty, delicious, filling and nutritious.
If this is your first Vietnamese experience, go for the pho ($9-$12). There are nine options but stay basic: rare beef will be a great introduction. No, don’t freak out, the beef is added raw to the hot soup and cooks it before it gets to the table. If you are not into beef, the chicken pho is pretty amazing, if not altogether traditional.
I am a huge fan of what this culture can do with noodles (don’t you dare think Italian pasta, not even close) and I do love rice noodles in all their guises, but just to be contrary I tried combination chow mein (stir-fried noodles). Yes, I do know chow mein are Chinese, but what this place does with this dish is killer good. Lovely, toothsome noodles, crunchy carrots, shrimp, mushrooms, baby carrots, beef, and another stunning sauce. A huge bowl for $12 is a pretty good deal, enough for two.
Soc Trang also serves Bánh mì, the Vietnamese style sandwich, but they are not on the menu. In talking to staff, I found several other things that had been added to their repertoire, but not to the menu. Just saying.
I’d also recommend any of the clay pot dishes, any of the pork chop options, lemon grass beef, and, if you are in a group of four or so, the hot pot is a great experience.
Soc Trang is another great addition to the small bevy of Vietnamese places the Coast is blessed with. Check it out.
Soc Trang Asian Restaurant
Where: 10090 Central Avenue, D’Iberville
Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., daily