When it's hot as all-get out, kind of like it is right now, the thought of turning on the stove or oven to cook dinner, thereby heating up the whole freaking house/apartment, is downright depressing. Even when eating out, we don't want anything hot. Steaming bowls of soup? No. We want cold food, dammit. Cold, filling, delicious food that someone else has slaved over a hot stove to prepare.
Enter spring rolls. Yes, they're kind of ubiquitous and probably over-played, but admit it -- you still like them. You enjoy eating them. You crave them. You love their cool rice-paperyness and the little Styrofoam cups of peanut sauce that come alongside. But where can you get the best spring rolls for your money? We decided to pit the old guard (Van Loc) against the new guard (Huynh) for a battle of the appetizers. For consistency's sake, we stuck with the classic goi cuon, a combination of pork and shrimp.
Huynh (912 St. Emanuel)
This little downtown spot is doing brisk business, entertaining downtown types for lunch and everyone from families to dates to raucous BYOB crowds at night. In between, the folks at Huynh are all too happy to fill your take-out order in person or over the phone and offer up a glass of water while you wait.
Huynh's rolls were the spendier of the two versions, clocking in at $3.16 for two rolls and a generous portion of peanut sauce. Thin but clearly just-made, Huynh's spring rolls were packed with pliant vermicelli, bits of cooked pork, and two big shrimps each. Rounding out the filling were lettuce, bean sprouts, and fresh mint.
These rolls went down easy, making us wish we had placed a double order. The rice paper wasn't over-stuffed and everything in the rolls had clearly not been sitting around in the kitchen for hours before we bought them. Unfortunately, the peanut sauce that came with Huynh's rolls was a bit one-note, though we did like the additions of fresh grated carrots and topping of crushed, roasted peanuts. Desirous of a bit more kick to our sauce, we doctored at home with a little Sambal Olek.
Van Loc (3010 Milam St.)
A midtown staple since 1986, Van Loc is packed with regulars at night and also does a steady stream of take-out business from students, police officers, and random folks who don't cook their own dinner. While waiting for your order, we recommend that you people watch.
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The Van Loc rolls were a tad more economical, clocking in at $5 and some change for four. Their basic makeup is the same, minus the mint, an omission which was greatly missed. Lettuce on its own didn't bring much flavor to the party, and the rice paper on several of our rolls tore and felt gummy, as if they had been made a while ago.
Redeeming Van Loc's slightly lackluster rolls was its excellent peanut sauce. At first it seemed a bit sweet, but as we dipped and ate, the flavors began to play perfectly against the rolls. We even used Van Loc's sauce to dip our remaining Huynh rolls in.
Hunyh for fresh rolls with bright mint, Van Loc for peanut sauce.