What: Ha Long Bay
Address and phone: 6304 E. Broadway, in El Mercado Plaza, 571-1338
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon-9 p.m. Sundays
Specialty: Vietnamese cuisine
What was ordered: One sailboat shrimp appetizer for $5.95, one dumpling appetizer for $6.95, and lemon grass spicy chicken for $5.95. Including tax, the total came to the cost of this newspaper plus $20 with three cents left over, or just 38 cents more than the Cheap Eats goal of a meal for $20.
Comments: One bite of the sailboat shrimp is all it took for Ha Long Bay to become my new favorite place.
OK, I’ll concede that I’m easily smitten. I can have a new favorite place every week, sometimes even twice a week if I’m lucky. But this appetizer is a marvel of simplicity: chopped shrimp spread on white sandwich bread, fried to golden crispiness, and then sliced up into triangles, like the sails you might see slicing across the famous body of water after which this East Side restaurant is named. It’s served with a rich, dark peanut sauce.
(If you really want to impress your dining companions, Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay is among 830 locations around the world that have been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The list also includes the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty.)
Just as delicious were the steamed dumplings: six puffy little pillows stuffed with a flavorful chicken concoction and served with a slightly sweet dipping sauce.
Our pair of apps and one lunch entree proved more than enough for two solid meals. The chicken entree we opted for was a delight, with loads of fresh green onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and – best of all – thick slices of ginger. It comes with a palm-size mound of rice and a cup of egg noodle soup.
Ha Long Bay celebrates its third anniversary next month. The bad thing is that I’ve only just discovered it. The good thing is that, as my new favorite place, I’ll be returning regularly.
Service: Friendly and efficient
Bar: Wine and Vietnamese beer
Vegetarian options: many, including egg noodle soup with vegetables and tofu for $6.50, stir-fired egg noodles with vegetables for $6, and double mushrooms with vegetables for $5.95
Dessert: Yes, fried banana pie for $3.95
Currency: Green and plastic
Children’s options: At the very least, rice and noodles
Most recent health inspection: A “good” rating Aug. 3, when three violations were found. Potentially hazardous foods were not held at proper cooling temperature; food separation, packaging, segregation and substitution methods were not preventing food and ingredient contamination; and noncritical items were not in compliance. All were corrected during the inspection. In the previous seven inspections, the restaurant received six “good” ratings and one “excellent.”