For this dish, I headed to an old haunt that my family and I lived close to until three years ago. I pulled into the parking lot, somewhat dismayed that the sign that used to say “Chino’s Fast Food” now reads “Cheno’s Fast Food.” No matter what the name, it's still a hole-in-the-wall.
It’s under new management, but the food is still the same—possibly better than before. We visited specifically for the Bo Luc Lac, which I have to thank Katharine Shilcutt, former restaurant critic for the Houston Press, for turning us on to. (Her recommendation, Huynh, would probably still be a fine place to get the dish if you’re closer to EaDo.)
My 20-year-old son and I dropped by yesterday. I scowled at the one-page Chinese menu before asking our server, “Did you change the food here?” He apparently pegged us as the General Tso’s crowd. The server returned shortly with the regular menu, a four-page list of Vietnamese dishes written in both Vietnamese and English. There are Thai dishes on the back with no English translations.
Bo Luc Lac is also referred to as Vietnamese Shaking Beef and made of tender chunks of beef sirloin strewn through with sautéed onions in a sauce of soy, fish sauce, salt and sugar and served with fresh, sliced tomatoes. The best onions are the ones that have gotten the brunt of the heat in the pan until they become golden and caramelized. You can get Bo Luc Lac with fried rice (com) or with French fries. (I’m not sure if that counts as a Belgian or French touch since those countries both claim they invented them, but either way, it’s fun. The fries go well in the sauce.)
This time, we got ours with fried rice. The juices from the fresh tomato slices and meat run off into it, which makes it even better. When you order Bo Luc Lac, you’ll also get a little dish with a lime wedge, salt and pepper. You can squeeze the lime into the salt and pepper and make a simple little sauce out of it. Dip the hunks of beef into it as you go for a new dimension of citrusy flavor. If there's any left over, I use the last on the rice.
While we were there, a Vietnamese woman came in to pick up a to-go order. As she was waiting, her eyes lit up when she saw what we were dining on. “It’s good to try new things!” she exclaimed. I couldn't agree more.
She then asked if we’d ever had fresh sugar cane drink before. I had to confess I had not. “Go to Paris Sandwich Café on Bellaire and Gessner. They have a machine where they press the sugar cane fresh.” I said I would definitely stop by and check it out sometime.
Unfortunately, we were way too full from our beefy meal and café sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) to consider putting one more thing into our bellies, but that's another stop on my list now.