A growing restaurant scene has yielded some shiny new Vietnamese restaurants popping up in and around Baton Rouge. These restaurants offer slick settings and menus that deliver the goods more often than not. It’s proof of how far ethnic cuisine has come in the capital city.
However, the beating heart of Vietnamese food in Baton Rouge can still be found in Little Vietnam, a neighborhood roughly centered around the intersection of Florida and Sherwood Forest boulevards. Here, you'll find the hidden jewels, those restaurants tucked away in dingy strip malls and shopping centers.
Dang’s Vietnamese Restaurant in Florida East Plaza is one such find. It's a hole-in-the-wall cranking out delicious food. Located across from Vinh Phat Market, Dang’s features old-school charm along with one of the best and most consistent Vietnamese menus in town.
A lunch visit had us taking our places amongst a cross-section of Baton Rougeans — blue-collar workers, professionals and students all settling in for Dang’s delights.
We began with a chicken wing appetizer ($6.99) that arrived fresh from the fryer, tossed in a choice of fish sauce, butter, tamarind or hot sauce. We chose fish sauce and were rewarded with six savory, sticky, umami bombs sprinkled with chili flakes and served with a side of sweet nuoc cham dipping sauce. Messy and delicious, the wings had us primed for our entrees.
Next up was the bun tom thit nuong cha gio, a vermicelli bowl with grilled pork, egg roll and shrimp ($10.59). Cold rice noodles are topped with scallions, shredded carrots, lettuce and toasted peanuts along with marinated grilled pork and shrimp and a sliced egg roll.
Sweet, salty and made spicy with some added sriracha and chili-garlic paste, the dish hit all the flavor points. The result? A clean plate.
My guest's order of do bien seafood stir fry ($10.59) arrived as a fragrant platter of mixed bok choy, cabbage, carrots and broccoli served over a choice of rice or egg noodles and topped with shrimp, crab, squid and fish balls. Featuring a scrumptious ginger-scented brown sauce, this dish was another hit. The portion was big enough that we asked for a to-go box.
A return visit to Dang’s began with a crispy beef bun appetizer ($9.99) and the grilled beef in betel leaves ($6.99). The buns were soft, sweet discs of dough served with small pile of grilled marinated beef strips to be eaten taco-style.
In the second appetizer, the grilled beef came as small nuggets wrapped in betel, a vegetable with a smoky, tart flavor. Though those tastes work well together but the beef was lean and dry. This would have benefited from a dipping sauce or perhaps a fattier cut of meat.
During our second visit, we took advantage of Dang’s frequent specials, in this case, the crispy duck noodle soup ($10.95). A bowl of light, sweet and grassy broth with egg noodles is served along a small platter of crispy-skinned sections of grilled duck, streaked with tangy Hoisin sauce. The rich duck was a nice foil for the light soup, but keep a stack of napkins nearby because it works best as finger food.
Dang’s also does one of the better renditions of bun bo hue, spicy beef noodle soup ($11.99). The dish is rice vermicelli in a spicy, citrusy broth. Red with chili oil and studded with pork, brisket, tendon and Vietnamese ham, the soup is sinus-clearing and satisfying. Come hungry because you might not be able to finish the ample bowl.
Service at Dang’s is always cheerful, if a bit frenetic. We’ve seen servers hopping, skipping, jumping and running in between tables and from the back of the house to the front. They’re always eager to please and attentive just keep your head on a swivel.
A vibrant culinary scene always welcomes new additions, but it’s still good to remember why an original is an original, and a classic is a classic. Dang’s can proudly lay claim to both.
Dang’s Vietnamese Restaurant
WHERE: 12385 Florida Blvd., Baton Rouge
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
INFO: (225) 275-2390 or dangsbr.com
PROS: Some of the best Vietnamese food in town, still; chicken wings; vermicelli; crispy duck noodle soup special; an original and a classic in Baton Rouge.
CONS: Grilled beef in betel leaves was dry; service can be frenetic.