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We Found the Holy Grail of Authentic Vietnamese Food

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We Found the Holy Grail of Authentic Vietnamese Food

Home / CITY GUIDE / HOT SPOTS / We Found the Holy Grail of Authentic Vietnamese Food
In collaboration with Present Restaurant. 
"I don’t think Vietnamese food needs to be fused with anything."
-Gene Nguyen, Restauranteur

Soft-shell crab, pork spring rolls, flaming beef. OH Yes.

Present Restaurant in Falls Church, VA wants to shatter your preconceived notions about Vietnamese food.

Tucked between a tire shop and nail salon on a busy Northern Virginia street, the restaurant’s owners approach everything with intention– including the restaurants name.

“The present is a gift,” says part owner Gene Nguyen. “I want people to focus on the atmosphere and enjoy the food. That’s why nothing is pre-made. We make everything fresh. The dishes are 100% authentic and purely Vietnamese.”

“That’s important because I don’t think Vietnamese food needs to be fused with anything,” continues Nguyen. “It shouldn’t be altered. We just choose better ingredients, better produce, and better proteins. We choose better so that it tastes better.”

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Present Restaurants BÒ ĐỐT LỬA HỒNG – BASKING or In The Summer Sun: Flaming beef in Chef’s special sauce served with steamed rice.

The Vastness of Vietnamese Cuisine

Nguyen is passionate about sharing his knowledge of Vietnamese culture and cuisine. When I was invited to Present Restaurant to try their signature dishes, I was met with knowledgeable servers able to share the origins of each dish.

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CAPITOL STANDARD’s Editor enjoys MIẾN XÀO CUA or Mosaic Pathway, a rare Vietnamese dish with jumbo lump crabmeat and cellophane noodle sautéed with fresh vegetable. Photography by Guyen Enkh.

Compared to other Asian cuisine like Thai food— which can be a mix of sweet, spicy, and flavorful overall– the leading characteristic of Vietnamese food is balance.

Vietnam’s landscape is not wide, its long. Customs and palates differ between the north, south, and central regions.   

The northern regions like heavier dishes with lots of salt while the south likes their dishes sweet. The middle regions go for smaller plates that are elegant, light, and clean.

“From street food to family style meals, I’ve grabbed the best dishes from each region,” says Nguyen.

New to Authentic Vietnamese Food? Here’s What to Order at Present Restaurant

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CHẢ GIÒ RẾ – Silken Shawl Imperial Autumn Roll: Intricately hand-made rice thread wrapper filled w/marinated prawn, pork slowly fried until crispy served with fish sauce.

Present Restaurant is the perfect platform for a Vietnamese food newbie (me!) who’s only foray into the cuisine has been pha– a popular Vietnamese noodle dish.

The menu is large but organized by dish. There are your standard appetizers, your soups, and rice dishes. The portions are perfect for sharing. Ninety percent of the menu is gluten free– they use fish sauce instead of soy sauce and rice flower instead of wheat flower. 

Along with the flavorful food, the service is top notch. Waiters are well trained, they have eaten everything on the menu, and they don’t hate it when you can’t decide what you want to eat.

If you’ve never had Vietnamese food, start with the autumn rolls (filled with pork and shrimp and carrots and fried to crispy perfection). Next, order up the flaming beef. In Vietnam meat is hard to find. So when one has it, it is marinated it for a long time. Present’s beef is served on a plank of wood with a controlled fire underneath. It arrives to the table hot, fresh, and fragrant.

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Enjoy special prices during Falls Church Restaurant week at the end of this month.

Photography by Guyen Enkh.


about the author

Ayana F. Christie
Ayana F. Christie
Ayana Christie works as a consultant and project manager for a major international corporation. Most importantly, she is a self-proclaimed foodie.