When my parents and I walked into Dac Hoe, I was worried. It was about 6 p.m. on a Sunday night, and there was absolutely no one else in the entire restaurant. Was this place in the midst of a downward spiral? Was it a front for some other dubious operation? What was going on?
I was instantly reassured by the sight of cooked ducks hanging in the window and the friendly Vietnamese owner who, throughout the course of the night, poured her soul out to us and ensured that we had a great meal. The entire time I ate, not one person showed up, but by the end of the meal I didn’t care.
The menu at Dac Hoe includes Thai and Chinese food, but because it is owned and operated by Vietnamese, I decided to try out their cuisine, which I knew very little about. My main mission was to score a bowl of pho, the national dish of Vietnam. It is a brothy, noodley, meaty soup that I have always had fantasies about but never the opportunity to actually try. Guided by the knowledgeable owner in fairly broken English I ordered the Pho Dac Hoe and an appetizer of one of the glistening barbecued ducks that were dangling in front of our eyes.
The service was not fast by any stretch of the imagination, but this was due to the talkativeness of our server who insisted on showing pictures of her daughter, asking me questions about school, explaining to me the intricacies of Vietnamese cuisine and giving me advice about life in general.
During a pause in the conversation she ambled over to one of the ducks, brought it over to a butchering station that was located off to the side of the dining area and began to deftly hack away at it with a large butcher’s knife.
When it reached the table I could already smell the rich, sweet aroma. The skin was crispy, the meat was incredibly juicy and tender and the glaze that dripped from every piece was the perfect balance of sweet and salty. It was very fatty; -not the grizzly chewy kind, but the kind of fat that melts in your mouth and makes you happy to be alive. I quickly ravaged the dish, and with my stomach still growling I eagerly awaited my first pho experience.
I was not disappointed. We were given a mini tutorial on the proper technique of pho eating. The soup itself was served with thin slices of medium-rare beef, rice noodles, tripe and some meatballs of mysterious origin. I was to add fresh basil, sprouts, a single fiery pepper and hot sauce that were presented separately.
The sprouts added a fresh flavor and a satisfying crunch to the soup as a whole, and the basil blended with the other flavors well. The broth was very hot and rich, and the beef was perfectly cooked and very tender. I didn’t care much for the tripe or balls of meat, no so much because of the flavor but because of the texture, which is something I think I will just have to get over.
The tiny pepper itself was meant to be placed in the soup to add spice but probably not to be eaten by itself. It found this out later when I bit into it and was assaulted by a solid 5 minutes of face-melting heat. Be warned. The pho itself was incredibly filling, which was something I usually don’t expect from soup, and was the perfect antidote for the bone-chilling winter that we are currently putting up with. It really is a dish that warms you from the inside out.
Not only does Dac Hoe offer extremely tasty and authentic food, it does so on a budget. The entire meal for three people cost just $38, which included two appetizers. My meal alone probably didn’t come much above the $10 mark. Though the sight of animal carcasses may scare away vegetarians, the savvy non meat eater has plenty of options to choose from, and the menu even has an exclusively vegetarian section.
This made me wonder again why we were the only diners in the restaurant. When we had walked in the owner had showed up a plaque that commemorated Dac Hoe’s 20th year of existence. They obviously had to be doing something right to be around for such a long some.
My conclusion is that the owners of Dac Hoe are not preoccupied with the number of customers they get, they simply want to serve good food to whoever happens to show up.
The fact that they have been around for 20 years but don’t seem to have a website is a refreshing reminder that there are still good restaurants out there that don’t inundate Facebook with fancy advertisements: a reminder that a restaurant can survive and perhaps even thrive by word of mouth, persistence and great food.
Ford is a member of the class of 2013.