Restaurant Guide 2013: Simply Vietnamese

2218 NE 82nd Ave., 208-3391.

[NOT SO SIMPLE] From a Westerner's perspective, Simply Vietnamese is perfectly bewildering and lovely—like Brigitte Bardot in the late '70s. The eatery is nothing like any of the myriad bun or pho or banh mi shops that Portlanders have grown accustomed to, and since opening, it has moved from accessible to English speakers—if also idiosyncratic—to an all-Vietnamese menu that scoffs at translation, except piecemeal by the terribly friendly owners and waitstaff. Its "Karaoke Cafe" is calm and karaoke-free, with two pool tables; its main restaurant is home to loud, sincere karaoke among family and friends. It is a place of lovely surprises. Their hallmark goat tenderloin is available only opportunistically, limited by sourcing; but terrific goat curries and stir fries are always available (de xao lan and sa, respectively). A recent off-menu dish featured the entirety of a foot-long squid with the sterling citrus-salt-chili dipping sauce once reserved for the tenderloin; the bo luc lac (shaking beef) has the familiarity of a boisterous old friend. The best policy, at all times, is simply to ask the server what her favorite dish is at that given moment. Her answer is almost always what you wanted, and rarely anything you've had in Portland. Hang out in the karaoke room to bone up on your Vietnamese pronunciation by staring at the subtitles on the songs, talk freely and discover that nowhere else in this city will offer you quite the feeling of being both an out-of-town visitor and a trusted old friend.

Ideal meal: Almost always what's recommended. Lately, the squid.

Best deal: Nothing is expensive.

Pro tip: Bring a smartphone and Google a dish's name and "vietnamese" to get an English translation.

5 pm-close daily. $-$$.


WWeek 2015

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.