This hole-in-the-wall has ~14 seats and just two main items on the menu. This won’t take long (but maybe longer than you think).
Mainly known as the place to get Vietnamese Steamed Rolls (bánh cuốn), Thanh Xuân Cafe on Kingsway and Nanaimo seems like it’s been there forever, despite being beside the long-standing Pho Hoa and still staying in business. (It helps that Pho Hoa generally sucks and has a different menu.)
To the right is a wonderful sketchy massage place and a weed shop. That’s a nice crawl without having to leave the strip mall…
The menu is basically two items: Vietnamese steamed rice rolls (with or without filling), and three variations of the same general kind of soup noodle. There’s also fried squid cakes. That’s basically it for the menu.
You can also get bánh cuốn to go, in either full or half orders.
We got their Bánh Cuốn with ground pork and shrimp filling.
We also tried their Bún Riêu (pork and crab paste rice vermicelli soup).
On this visit, it was the elderly woman running the place with a younger assistant. The woman speaks northern Vietnamese and presumably no English. No written bills, everything is verbal and cash-only 🙂
Bánh Cuốn ($9), steamed rice rolls with ground pork and shrimp filling. Slices of Vietnamese ham (chả lụa) and fried shallots on top.
It’s cooked fresh to order and comes out relatively quickly. However, while technically done well, the amount of filling was just enough to register.
Fish sauce was light and well-balanced, made to be poured on liberally.
Plate of lettuce and herbs to eat with everything on the menu. Herbs were cilantro and perilla.
It’s homey and not bad. I do wish there was more filling though, but your tastes may differ. It’s a humble street food that’s tricky to make but not to be fussed over, so in that sense it’s a success, but I do think more could be done.
Bún Riêu Cua ($9) with tomatoes, water celery, chả lụa (Vietnamese ham), and that special pork & crab paste (which is like a cross between a meatball and a crab cake).
The crab “clouds” here are on the firm side, with an interesting crust on them. A bit heavier and denser than what I prefer. The broth is light but with a pretty good depth of flavour. Overall it’s light and homey tasting (perhaps even a bit plain) but I like my bún riêu to be quite punchy with fluffier pork & crab chunks, so I probably wouldn’t order this again.
Chả Mực ($5 for 3), deep fried squid cakes. A bit dried-out and tough on the outside. Flavour was ok but I’ve had better. These might even be the same ones made by Bun Cha Hoang Yen on Victoria Drive but the way these were cooked made them less good.
Overall, Thanh Xuân Cafe isn’t quite the hidden gem, but I’d come back for the bánh cuốn (with a friend, to make the visit worthwhile).