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Quang 2719 Nicollet Ave

There are a few types of cuisine that rely on freshness and variety of ingredients rather than complexity of preparation. One such is Vietnamese food; not that there aren't complex Vietnamese dishes, but even the simpler ones are stunning due to the aforementioned ingredient choice.

In addition to Thai and Mexican, Minneapolis has a significant Vietnamese enclave, and as such is home to quite a few restaurants of varied renown and quality. One of these is Quang, an unassuming place that nevertheless had to move to a larger location and take over two parking lots to acount for its constantly increasing popularity.

Quang offers a very family-friendly atmosphere, and is usually quite busy, although its size means that you'll only have to wait if you come at peak times. Friday and Saturday evening may see a wait of 15-20 minutes, nothing drastic; smaller parties get seated quickly, thanks to the large amount of long communal tables. While these can seat a party of 16, you'll usually see two couples on each end and a party of 4 in the middle, with ample elbow room. There are also booths on the exterior walls, and several two-seater tables scattered about.

The smoking section unfortunately is separated only by a chest-high wall from the rest of the room, although the industrial strength air circulators do an adequate job of sucking the smoke out. You may occasionally get a whiff of smoke if you end up near the cancer suckers. As an ex-smoker, I'm fairly sensitive to tobacco smoke, but 90% of the time it is not an issue.

Hopefully you have your spot picked out. On to the food!

Quang's menu is excitingly full of authentic-looking (I've never been, so can't verify the authenticity) Vietnamese dishes. The pho and spring rolls are both fantastic - both brimming with freshness and a variety of ingredients from tame (sliced pork) to the funky (mmm, tripe and tendon). I would venture that any Vietnamese place that offers tendon is that one step closer to authenticity... If you're not a spring roll fan (blasphemy!), try the yam/shrimp fries with fish sauce - they're delicious in a very unusual way. Try the shrimp spring rolls otherwise.

If you're not quite in a red meat-based mood, try the seafood soup, either with clear or rice noodles. It comes in a bowl big enough for two, and two each of shrimp, meatball and a chunk of lobster leg. There's also ample slices of pork throughout, and basil, sprouts, jalapenos and lime to garnish with. Try it with a bit of Sriracha sauce for a culinary experience that I personally try to revisit just about every other week (despite the 20-30 minute drive).

The dry noodle bowls are also very good - I recommend the one with mock duck, as the stuff absorbs the flavors within the bowl, and there's a good selection of assorted veggies within. This dish is of course suicide for folks with either celiac or DH, but those so unafflicted should definitely try it out. We were not impressed with the other dry noodle bowls - there is insufficient variety of ingredients.

For a quick lunch on the go, Quang offers the insanely popular hoagies. As a gluten-allergic myself, I've never tried one of these, but they vanish as soon as they're delivered to the counter from the kitchen. If you try one, let me know!

Finally, the extras, the bonuses, the vividly colored desserts and to-go drinks in the refrigerated display case near the counter, or on the counter itself. I haven't tried all of these yet (sometimes too frightened of the radiation green color, sometimes too full, sometimes I already have my eye on something else), but here's a small selection:
  • coconut bread; chewy, thick slices of something that's a cross between tapioca pudding and coconut flavoring. Excellent take-home desert, zap it in a microwave for 5 seconds if over a day old and it comes right back to life. This also comes in a "steamed" form, which is rather more odd and tastes like cookie dough. Try the baked type first - it'll be brown, not white.
  • mung bean drink; this is packed with fronds, beans, seeds and I'm not even sure what else. The most discernible taste is that of condensed milk, but it's so thick with STUFF it could be a lunch in itself. I just wish I knew what some of the items were. You have to be brave, even if some of the items present in the drink do in fact look like eyeballs.
  • bubble tea; small "bubbles" of tapioca floating in a flavoured condensed milk concoction. Try the strawberry or coffee type. Apparently aka pearl tea, as well.
If you're anywhere within the Twin Cities area, just go. I've only covered a small sampling of the menu here, since I'm so stuck on the spring roll + soup combo, but there are plentiful alternatives.

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