Lake Highlands has become a bona fide destination for eaters, with chef-driven bistros, a brand new Waffle House and everything in between.
And while we appreciate our nostalgic staples, cutting-edge cafés and craft cocktail bars, there are a number of oft-overlooked food finds for those willing to travel a less-beaten path.
A hub of authentic and trusted Asian restaurants is located near our neighborhood’s fringe, at the southwest corner of Walnut Street and Audelia.
A pair of practically life-sized parking-lot giraffes signal Bistro B, the epicenter of this dining universe. This Asian fusion venue is the opposite of a hole-in-the wall (it’s loud and large with bling for days). As owner Michael Dang has said, “It’s just like a nightclub!”
The menu is a tome, with chapters on fire pots, pho, vegetarian fare, Chinese plates, banh mi, rice combos and desserts and drinks — coffees, teas, smoothies, ice cream shakes, shaved ice, gelatins and puddings galore.
Within Bistro B’s orbit is a handful of proprietors who — though their surfaces shine less brightly — offer equally intriguing fare and backstories.
Bếp Nhà Viet Kitchen
The most recent addition to the shopping center is Bếp Nhà Viet Kitchen. Owner Huong Ngongo worked at Pho 95 (which used to occupy the same suite) and was close friends with those owners, she says.
Last year she purchased the restaurant, rebranded and remodeled.
The new interior looks bright, clean and spacious with wood-paneled counters, modern cafe tables and plants whose healthy green vines dangle from shelves. For those overstimulated by Bistro B’s dazzling atmosphere, Bếp Nhà is the panacea.
Ngongo says the shopping center — with close proximity to Texas Instruments and Richland College — is perfect for a small business like hers. “We have a lot of loyal customers from both,” she says.
She also updated the menu, which includes specialties such as deep fried whole cornish hen, staples such as pho and vermicelli bowls and beautiful drinks including lychee rose tea or mint and kiwi soda garnished in flowers and fruits.
Her customers’ favorite menu item is the yellow noodle dish, she says.
“It is made the way it is made in Da Nang, (Vietnam) where my husband is from.”
Kelly Pham — who you’ll find at the counter of a tiny deli called Tuyết Tofu — immigrated to Dallas with her mom, dad and six siblings in 1992.
“My parents came here from a third-world nation, with zero dollars, to achieve the American dream,” says Pham, who now oversees the family businesses, two of which —Tuyết Tofu and La’ Me — are nestled inside the Walnut and Audelia center.
Kelly, the second child, recalls all the siblings sharing a room, Dad going off to work every day and Mom staying home and cooking. Tofu played a big role in Mom’s kitchen. “It is healthy, and she made enough to share around the entire apartment complex,” Kelly says.
Tuyết Tofu was the Pham family’s “first baby” as Kelly puts it. Her parents have retired but are still in the store six days a week, she says.
A visit to Tuyết Tofu turns up soya in various forms — tofu lightly fried, marinated in minced lemongrass and chilis, skin folded into the wrap for an egg roll — and sticky rice, which is as much of a draw as the tofu.
“Especially during the Vietnamese New Year we make tons of sticky rice cake,” she says. That can mean sticky rice around pork, red beans or other meats and veggies, depending on the season. For banh mi sandwiches, Tuyết usually stocks jars of fresh pickled leeks, carrots, peppers and onions.
Other offerings are endless and varied. One couple waiting on their order told us they don’t always know what to expect here. They say they embrace that unpredictability. All the food around here — at La’ Me, D’Vegan, Bếp Nhà (and the desserts offered at a counter inside Hong Hong Market, which “has the fanciest snow cones imaginable”), all of which they love — is a real gift to the neighborhood, they say.
The Pham family’s second Walnut Street restaurant, La’ Me, is well-known even beyond our neighborhood for its quality banh mi (a Vietnamese hoagie) made from airy baguettes, fresh pickled cucumbers, maybe a chili-sauce smear, and tofu or pork. They also serve about eight varieties of pho, the popular noodle and vegetable soup. Their kho dac biet noodle dish is served with broth on the side, which gives one the option to enjoy it as a soup, or, in Texas summer, not.
Like its neighbors, La’ Me’s menu is extensive, so opportunities for new culinary adventures come with every page flip. Sifting through traveler and local reviews reveals that favorites include broken rice, bun mam (a fish and shallot dish), bun dau mam tom (a combination plate with various seafoods and veggies) and bun cha ha (grilled pork and noodles).
Many in Dallas rely upon the Pham’s restaurants (they also own Pho Tay Do in Richardson) for plates that remind them of home or flavors of a faraway culture. In turn, Kelly says, the family works hard for and appreciates both neighboring businesses and loyal patrons who are “like a family.”
Tucked inside the Walnut Street Hong Hong Market, which anchors the center, is a peaceable haven for diners who do not eat animals (or for those who do, don’t mind a meal whose proteins are soy, nuts and beans).
“Peaceable?” you might ask. It’s just the word that comes to mind when reading the “Alternative Living” pamphlet at D’Vegan, animated with one cartoon pig whose quote bubble reads “I love you,” and a hen with chicks saying, “We pray for you.”
D’Vegan’s bun cao lau vermicelli noodle soup is the vegan alternative to chicken-broth pho — thick with noodles, mushrooms, tomatoes, mint, cilantro and pineapple. The kung pao chick’n — and all the faux meats made from soy, for that matter — comes tender and flavorful. Golden noodles are plump and absorbent (of the spices), and anything with lemongrass is a delight to all of the senses.
The bun bi cha, crispy rice noodles, is made of flavorful crispy shredded tofu, pickled carrots, with a homemade, oil-based lightly spiced sauce. Also don’t leave without a couple bags of vegan jerky, available at the counter. D’Vegan has been here for at least a decade, so it is reliable, and you can’t really go wrong. Settle into a comfortable booth or take boxes to-go.