Tan Tan Vietnamese Restaurant: The Zenith of Bun

1601 W. Ohlen, Ste. E, 832-9585

Daily, 10am-9pm

Tan Tan
photograph by John Anderson

In the convoluted and twisted workings of my mind lies the food appreciation center, where my gray matter logs, rates, ranks, and categorizes everything I eat. There's a special recessed corner for Bun -- the huge, heaping bowls of vermicelli rice noodles, which are tossed with all manner of meats and vegetables, and swathed with Nuoc Cham sauce. The quality and quantity of the Bun at Tan Tan is what makes my feeble brain cells place this restaurant square at the zenith of the pile of Bun palaces in this town.

Tan Tan is a clean, bright, efficiently run operation in a strip center behind the Target at Ohlen Road and 183. The menu offers all of my faves to be found at Vietnamese noodle shops save one: the elusive Bahn Xeo, or Happy Pancake. I don't hold that against them, because they make up for its absence by offering a few things not normally found, such as Bun with Curry Sauce.

I was drawn back to Tan Tan by some spiteful hate mail I received on my computer screen from a concerned reader who felt that my one-sentence mention of Kim Phung in a roundup of Vietnamese restaurants constituted undue praise. He felt that it linked me irrevocably with all the other bonehead reviewers who fail to seek out the smaller, more esoteric restaurants in town. After supping with my supervisor and a new Texan (ex-Californian) friend at Tan Tan, I decided that Austin needs to know more about this sterling spot.

Two journeys there produced two rock-solid experiences. The first began with Gui Cuon, or Fresh Spring Rolls ($2), filled with shrimp, pork, veggies, and vermicelli, served with a tamarind-peanut sauce and packed almost to bursting. They were excellent. Suzanne tried Pho Tom ($3.80, small bowl), a noodle soup with shrimp. One complaint I have with Pho in restaurants is that after adding all the requisite veggie salad plate items, the richness of the stock gets too diluted; Tan Tan passed this test with aplomb. The small bowl was huge, with lots of shrimp swimming in a tasty pool of richly scented stock. My bowl of Bun ($5) was gargantuan, with copious amounts of egg roll and perfectly grilled pork and shrimp atop a bed of shredded lettuce, sprouts, carrots, and cucumbers. The rice noodles were al dente and the meats loaded with flavor (and, most importantly, not overcooked).

Dena and I attacked the menu on my next trip there by ordering the Bun With Lemongrass ($4.50), the Egg Noodle Soup With Shrimp, Pork, and Chicken ($4.25, small bowl), Bun With Curry Sauce ($4.50), and Assorted Meats With Pan Fried Noodles ($6.55). Again, the meats in the Bun were properly grilled and the bowls laden with veggies. The aromatic lemongrass flavor permeated Dena's order, filling the air space of our table with its perfume. My bowl of Bun was bathed in a rich curry sauce and was a unique element to add to the standard mix. I've not noticed this item anywhere else in town, and I recommend it highly. We split the small order of delicious soup and had plenty to take home with us. The assorted meats (shrimp, chicken, pork, and beef) were cooked with vegetables in a Vietnamese brown sauce, resting atop a square-foot sized pillow of crunchy, pan-fried egg noodles. It was one of the better versions of pan-fried noodles I've found in Austin, with the meats just-cooked and tossed with a garlic-flavored sauce.

Tan Tan now lies at the top of my short list for Bun at Vietnamese noodle houses. Expect low prices, generous portions, and fast, friendly, and efficient service. Give the Bun with curry sauce a try; it'll blow you away. --Mick Vann

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Tan Tan Vietnamese Restaurant, Mick Vann

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