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. $-$$.