Last week I ate at Van Loc with my family. It was very good, as it had been in most visits in the past. For some reason it had been several years since I had visited. It was a long an in-town Vietnamese favorite that I always preferred it to Mai’s, its neighbor a couple of blocks away in Midtown.
This is adapted from the current edition of Houston Dining on the Cheap:
Van Loc might be the best of the less-numerous-than-before Vietnamese restaurants in Midtown, though it does have its off nights. The fairly spacious dining room is rather spartan, but inviting. Maybe that’s just the aromas or anticipation. Service is usually decent enough. But, the décor and service are secondary to the food. The cooking is mostly unassimilated, but Van Loc appeals to both the local Vietnamese community and non-Asians alike. Van Loc provides more than commendable versions of most of the popular, and not-so-popular, Vietnamese dishes. If there is a Vietnamese dish that you like, Van Loc undoubtedly serves a version of it.
The lengthy menu contains mostly Vietnamese dishes, along with some Chinese ones among the myriad of choices. The menu begins with Appetizers, then Soup, and on and on. The rest of the fairly descriptive menu headings are: Beef Noodle Soup (Pho), Rice Noodle Soup, Egg Noodle Soup, Vermicelli Soup, Vermicelli (Bun), Combination Rice Plate (Com Dia), Fried Rice, Pan Fried Noodles, Special Thin Vermicelli, Rice Paper Dishes, Chicken Dishes, Pork Dishes, Beef Dishes, Seafood (shrimp), Fish, Clay Pot Specials, Special Hot Pot Soup, Thin Soup, Specialties Dishes, Special Salads, and Vegetarian Dishes. A great way to start a meal is with one of the rolls. There are the soft spring and summer rolls and the deep-fried Vietnamese Egg Rolls. In addition to the familiar versions featuring shredded pork and a combination of the pork and shrimp, there are also versions with the delicious char-grilled chicken or pork.
As with other Vietnamese restaurants, inexpensive meals can be made with pho, the beef noodle soups, the meal-in-a-bowl vermicelli dishes (bun), or the Rice Plates. The pho soups are very good, and feature only beef, beef meat balls and chicken, not the extraneous parts, as are served at the restaurants that specialize in pho. The similar, and similarly inexpensive, rice noodle soups (hu tiu) and egg noodle soups (mi), are not made with a beef broth and feature other main ingredients such as shrimp. Popular toppings for the vermicelli and rice plates are the aforementioned moist and flavorful char-grilled pork and char-grilled chicken. The egg cakes in several of the rice dishes are quite tasty. At Van Loc these are yellow in color, as these should be, rather than brownish, as at some other places. The Chinese-style fried rice dishes (pork, beef, chicken and shrimp) are other excellent values.
The more expensive dishes – though certainly not expensive – under the various headings such as Chicken, Pork, Beef, Seafood, etc., also have their adherents. A couple of the beef dishes are especially appealing: the beef with curry, coconut and peanut; and the filet mignon chunks that are sautéed with garlic and scallions, and served with fresh lettuce and tomatoes. The Clay Pot Specials are interesting and flavorful. Cooked in a small clay pot, they arrive at the table sizzling. The one with pork has a unique taste, might be more readily enjoyable for most than the one with fish (and a prominent fish head). On the rest of the large menu, there are many potentially gratifying choices. Frog legs, quail, pigeon and soft shell crabs are among the other entrées, though I could not find eel recently.
3010 Milam (between McGowen and Elgin), 77006, (713) 528-6441