Local Spotlight

$8.50 Lunch Special at the Swanky Vietopia

When my fiance and I met for lunch the other day, we'd planned to visit Chick-Fil-A. But right before we were about to make the turn, he remembered he'd been wanting me to try the Vietnamese place right by his office. I quickly switched lanes, cutting at least three people off and probably ruining their day (sorry!), and we made our way over to Vietopia Vietnamese Cuisine. I still feel bad about cutting into traffic, but I'm glad I did.

Dave had described the place as a casual little restaurant with table service. Looking back, I should have known not to listen to him, as he once led a group of friends and me to Cafe Ginger in our bathing suits. I was expecting a hole-in-the-wall, empty joint, but this place was huge. With soft lighting, white table cloths, high ceilings and a sweeping staircase, it was more elegant than casual. Actually, it was beautiful inside. I tried to get a picture of the awesome vertical palm frond fans, but it was too dark, and flashing my camera at people eating was too inappropriate. Next time.

With the upscale vibe, I expected upscale prices. But Vietopia offers a great lunch special, with choice of entree (tons of rice, vermicelli, pho, chicken, beef, shrimp and pork dishes) and a soft spring roll for only $8.50. I perused the regular menu as well, of course. Most dinner entrees fall within the $10 to $15 range, which is pretty decent for a fancy night out.

We arrived at the height of the lunch rush, with a line out the door. But even with a packed restaurant, we waited just five minutes for a table. Our waiter came over shortly thereafter to take our orders, and before we knew it, our spring rolls had arrived. That's the beauty of the lunch special; it's perfect for getting busy people in and out.

The rolls were huge, with an entire stalk of Romaine sticking out the top. It was almost like a spring roll/lettuce wrap combo...and I loved it. Stuffed with plump shrimp, grilled chicken, vermicelli and bean sprouts, the tightly rolled, wonderfully soft rice paper was a nice start. As for the tangy and spicy peanut sauce, I practically licked it out of the bowl.

I was expecting lunch portions for the entrees, but even those were huge. I ordered the Bun Ga Tom Nuong; a giant bowl of vermicelli, shredded lettuce, carrots, bean sprouts, scallions, perfectly charred shrimp and enough lemongrass chicken to feed an army. The fish sauce was light and delicate, I thought, as I not-so-delicately dumped it all over my noodles. The bowl's contents had a nice balance of flavor and texture, with a sweetness from the fish sauce, a lemony essence from the chicken, crunch from the crisp vegetables, and soft, chewy noodles. It could have used a bit of heat, but all in all it was a good dish.

There are tons of amazing Vietnamese places around town, and this may not be the best of them all. But if you feel like fancying it up a bit, this spot is perfect. The swanky decor, quick, friendly service, and tasty food make it a great option for an upscale lunch or a romantic night out.

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Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano