Falls Church is blessed with many fine ethnic restaurants like Bep Viet where customers can take a “trip” to Vietnam and enjoy a traditional Vietnamese meal right here near Little City.
The interior of this hidden gem at a small strip center behind Bill Page Honda on Arlington Boulevard was a shock to me whose restaurant stereotype with tile floors, tabletops and fluorescent lighting could not have been more misguided.
Step inside Bep Viet (whose name means “Viet kitchen”) to elegant surroundings with a menu to please vegetarians and meat eaters, both.
Decorative arts from Vietnam combine with living plants, wooden floors, tables, and chairs to impart a warm, intimate environment where soft piano music plays in the background, and a handsome bar in a corner awaits guests.
“We want customers to enjoy their meal and not be hurried,” said chef and owner Michael Phan in an interview at the eatery.
Paintings by Phan’s father of countryside scenes of the nation hang on the right wall to whisk guests briefly to Vietnam. Look on the left and see the capital, Saigon, in large, framed photographs of yesteryear’s scenes, which are unrecognizable today, Phan said.
After working with family members at a restaurant for several years in Eden Center, Phan said he wanted to create something nicer, to make for a fine dining experience and so he has, with the help of his wife, Elaine.
“We are a team who tried to create something we love to do with traditional and authentic Vietnamese food. I do the cooking and she makes the desserts,” he said.
The most popular dishes are from the pho family, made several different ways, including beef noodle soup ($13.95) with chicken ($12.95) or seafood ($15.95).
Another top choice is the “golden pancake” ($12.95) or “golden crepe,” a combination of mung bean, onion, turmeric, bean sprouts and shrimp or vegetables (tofu), blended, sauteed and rolled like an omelet.
It’s served with mixed greens and fish sauce, and the chef provided eating instructions: “You fold it in half, tear off a bit and dip it in the sauce.” I, who is not fond of anything “crepe” or omelet, had to try one and learn the mystery.
It was large, covering half the plate. The shell was crunchy and light, with a sweet taste, but not too sweet, garnished by sprouts, cilantro and greens which help keep the calorie count low, despite the fried shell.
In a word: scrumptious, which I managed to eat at one sitting and wished for more.
On my first visit to Bep Viet I was joined by my friends Marisa and Nora who offered opinions of their dinner selections.
Marisa, a frequent Bep Viet customer, described her veggie spring rolls ($5.50) as “a refreshing meal starter with strips of pleasantly chewy baked tofu and a nice, not overwhelming complement of delicious peanut sauce.”
Her husband, Sean, found his takeout meal of sauteed tofu and broccoli ($14.95), “fresh and flavorful’’ while Nora labeled her tofu and vegetables on a bed of soft noodles ($14.95), “quite tasty; a perfect option for vegetarians.”
On that visit I ordered the grilled lemongrass chicken with lettuce, carrots, cucumber, and bean sprouts ($13.95) which came with perfectly cooked steamed rice, light and fluffy. The chicken was tender and moist. I also ate shrimp garden rolls ($6.95) with rice vermicelli and mixed greens wrapped in rice paper and served with peanut sauce, that taste so appealing I could have eaten the sauce solo without the garden rolls!
The foods all seemed low-calorie and once I hit my brain’s “refresh” tab, I realized that overweight Vietnamese people are uncommon. Their foods help to explain why!
As for a dessert, it took me several minutes of staring at the refrigerated case of of colors and choices ($4.95-$7.95) before I settled on the crowning of a liquid green “something” (looking like melting green jello which it was not!) atop a creamy white base of taro, sweet rice and coconut cream which Phan told me was Bep Viet’s best-selling dessert.
Rather than saving the best for last (carpe diem!), I began my meal with this tasty treat which was unlike any other dessert I’ve consumed and worth twice its cost ($5.95).
Taro is a root vegetable with antioxidants, nutrients, and vitamins, and believed to slow down the aging process and contribute to a healthy weight loss, so it’s okay to order several servings as I longed to do. (Eat up your taro!)
The Phans live in Falls Church which is why the restaurant is based here. They came to the U.S. from Vietnam as children in the 1970s and, after working with family for many years in the restaurant business, opened Bep Viet in 2019, about six months before Covid-19 hit. It wasn’t until last June that the restaurant re-opened.
Things are slowly getting better, Phan said, and they are grateful.
He quotes his father-in-law who gave Phan some good tips: “Cook well for the customer. Don’t think about the money, but make sure the customer has a fine dining experience so the customer will come back.”
And I shall.
3000 Annandale Rd, Falls Church 22042, ph. 703-345-1103, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Closed on Sunday.