Argyle Street is the bustling capital of Vietnamese food in Chicago, and I certainly go there whenever a good bowl of pho is in order, but I would venture to say that the best Vietnamese food in Chicago can be found at Hoanh Long, where the closest it comes to having an Asian neighbor is the Panda Express in the shopping mall across the street.
Despite the obscure location, Hoanh Long has plenty of admirers, many for its pho among other popular Vietnamese dishes, but I wouldn’t know anything about those, since I cannot get past ordering the two outrageously delicious dishes that are the reason I come here in the first place.
The first object of my admiration is the deceptively simply named “Chicken Salad” or Goi Ga in Vietnamese, which is not at all like the one coming from the deli counter of a grocery store, although the name does conjure up those images. Thick with shredded chicken, this salad is a tumbleweed of carrots, cabbage and mild onions, dripping with the typical southeast Asian flavor profile of sweet, sour and spicy flavors. A shower of finely chopped peanuts, fried shallots and shrimp crackers crown the dish, adding depth, crunch and flavor.
This was my only go-to dish for the longest time, until one day I was joined by a friend who lived in Hawaii seventeen years. She requested the Rau Muong, translated as stir fried water spinach with minced garlic, a favorite of hers from the island days. It seemed pricy at $8.95 for just a vegetable but once I tasted it, I’ve never not ordered it again. And it’s a good deal anyway – the giant platter of leafy greens, including both the crunchy stems and wilted leaves, is satisfying in a way that’s unexpected. Since then, I’ve returned the favor and shared this dish with many a friend, and I’ve yet to meet someone who wasn’t both surprised and delighted.
A tropical plant reputed to grow several inches in a day, rau moung is is staple vegetable of Vietnam cuisine. You can buy a bunch on Argyle Street at Tai Nam for a few dollars, but ask for Ong Choy, its Chinese name, or look at this photo so you know what to buy.