Tâm Deli & Cafe

Tâm Deli, open since 1999, is one of our favorite Vietnamese cuisine venues

Bahn Xeo
Bahn Xeo (Photo By John Anderson)

Tâm Deli & Cafe

8222 N. Lamar Ste. D-33, 834-6458

Wednesday-Monday, 10am-8pm

Tâm Deli, open since 1999, is one of our favorite Vietnamese cuisine venues. It's located in the Centre North strip center, immediately on your left after you cross under Research while going north on Lamar. Tâm Bui runs the front, while sister Tran Ngoc rides herd on the kitchen. Together, they are a dynamic duo, producing first-rate Viet cafe cuisine at very reasonable prices.

We have been fans for years, but it had been a while since our last visit, and it seemed as if they had added a few things since we were last there. Tâm Deli is strong on appetizers, and we had several of their best. One visit had us eating the Yam and Shrimp Fritters ($3.75) – a clean and light rice flour batter binding shredded yam and shell-on shrimp (the shells left on for textural contrast: harmless, delightfully crunchy, and traditional all over Southeast Asia). Dip these beauties in the accompanying nuoc cham sauce (a blend of fish sauce, chile, garlic, sugar, and lime juice) and you know you've found the real deal.

Bahn Xeo, a large rice flour, egg, and coconut milk crepe stuffed with pork, shrimp, and sprouts ($5.99) transported us. Tâm serves an excellent version, eaten by enrolling portions in lettuce leaves with herbs before dipping in the sauce. The steamed rice wraps never fail to delight: This time, we had the ground pork/black mushroom version that comes topped with slices of Tâm's homemade pork loaf ($5.50). Rectangular rice paper wrappers enclose the filling, the pâté rests on top, garnished with golden slivers of fried garlic, with a side salad of cucumber slices and sprouts. Perfect, and big enough for two.

Of the soups we tried, Won Ton and Egg Noodle Soup ($5.25 for the "small" bowl) couldn't have been better: rich stock, slippery pork wontons, fresh noodles, aromatic herbs, shrimp, grilled pork slices, squid, and imitation crab (or surimi, eaten by the Japanese for more than 800 years). It is as fine a batch of Viet soup as you can get (and, by the way, Pho, or beef noodle soup, is pronounced "fuh").

Salt and Pepper Squid ($8.99) is lightly battered tender pieces seasoned with a spicy-salty blend, topped with fried scallion and garlic, jalapeño slices, and served with a tangy lemon-butter sauce. It is a culinary treat. We had to try a com dia rice platter, this one topped with slices of tender beef, lemongrass, chiles, and green beans in a rich brown sauce ($5.75), making for a large portion, and very tasty. Of course, we needed a bowl of bun (pronounced "boon") noodles, this with savory grilled pork and flaky ground-pork-filled egg rolls ($5.85). Tâm's bowls have a nice proportion of vermicelli to meat, with lettuce and sprouts on the bottom, as well as cucumber, carrot, and herbs on top – an exemplary bowl.

Desserts at Tâm are legendary, but you need to escape the lure of the perfect Western cream puffs and the Black Forest cake and go Southeast Asian! A bowl holding clouds of the freshest and lightest homemade tofu floating in a warm lake of sweet ginger sauce can be had for $1.50. Ripe banana enrobed with a blanket of grilled sticky rice, dressed with a sweet coconut sauce, is ethereal and inexpensive: $1.50 for one, $2.29 for two. Drinks are as unique: a glass of refreshing salted lemon drink ($1.50, made from salt-preserved lemons, not unlike those used in Moroccan cuisine), and a magnificent jackfruit smoothie ($2.25, many other flavors available) made from the largest (and one of the best-tasting) fruits in the world.

We couldn't have been happier to rediscover Tâm Deli. We can safely say that a spot near the very top of our Vietnamese restaurant rotation list has been locked in. Like us, if you haven't been there in a while, you should: authentic food, good service, nice portions, great prices.

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