It’s a “best-kept-secret” level restaurant 🙂
I’ve been hearing about this affordable Vietnamese restaurant along Retiro (NS Amoranto) in Quezon City. It’s supposed to be very good, and one of my foodie friends, who rarely rates anything a 5/5, gave it 5 stars!
So when I received an invitation to try their food, I checked them online. I saw that the average cost for 2 people is P600, and normally, when I see prices like that from little known restaurants, my expectations sink because most of the restaurants at that level are blah. But since my foodie friends gave it good reviews, I was curious.
TRA VINH VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT
Tra Vinh does not have fancy interiors nor fancy signage. It actually looks like a typical Chinese restaurant. It is located in front of Cajun, it is near the McDonald’s and the Goldilocks in D. Tuazon.
It is however, part of a Vietnamese restaurant chain that started in Australia by a Vietnamese. Michael Ang, who co-owns the Philippine side of Tra Vinh, has lived and worked in Australia for some 20+ years, and he brought Tra Vinh to the Philippines. The first Tra Vinh branch opened in Quezon City 3 years ago.
Michael is very hands-on in the operations of Tra Vinh. He actually does the marketing himself. Yes, he goes to the market to buy fresh seafood every night! He says that serving quality food is the most important thing. If they can’t find a supply of an essential ingredient like fresh seafood, they would rather not sell the item. They would say that it is sold out, rather than serve less than good food.
The food at Tra Vinh is Southern Vietnamese style.
We started with some salads, they are served with some kropek as suggested by a Vietnamese customer. You’re supposed to put some salad on the kropek. I found the salads a bit too strongly sour for my taste.
Chicken Salad (P220)
Prawn Pomelo Salad (P250)
Chili Salted Squid (P200) – don’t worry, it’s really not that spicy 🙂
Fried Pork Spring Rolls (P170) – the ground pork is fine and didn’t have a porky taste (this is a good thing), but I really feel that it’s a bit bland on its own and that it needs to be dipped in sauce
Braised Beef Noodle Soup (P230) – braised beef but in noodle form
Braised Duck Noodle Soup (P240) – difficult to find item at other restaurants. It has the rich, strong duck flavor, but it’s not malansa. Michael says that the prep for this, for the duck, takes a lot of work. You get a quarter piece of duck per order.
Lemongrass Pork (P349) – I wanted this to have a stronger lemongrass flavor.
My favorite dish would be the Bahn Mi (P199). The baguette is really good – flaky crust, light, chewy bread. I like that I can actually taste the pâté (other bahn mi places usually scrimp on this). Make sure to ask for the sweet vinegar / pickle juice to add to your bahn mi, and feel free to slather on some hoisin and chili sauce as much as you like. On its own, I feel like the bahn mi pickles need a bit more tartness and sweetness, but the quality of the ingredients, especially the beef (NZ beef!) is such a steal for the price. These are new additions to the menu.
Another dish I really liked was the Spicy Combination Noodle Soup (P230). It’s actually not that spicy. It tingles the mouth, but that’s how spicy (hot) it is. The broth for this soup uses 15 spices, though. You can ask for them to make it hotter when you order, and they can boil your broth with more chilis.
The Tra Vinh Special Noodle Soup (P230) was light but flavorful, with a clear broth.
All the soup broths were prepared well, and have most of the fat removed, leaving only the flavorful broth behind.
The Vietnamese Pancake is only P290 and two people can order it and would be so full! Solve na.
Here’s what the Vietnamese Pancake looks like after it’s been rolled:
I also liked the Fried Prawn Spring Rolls (P170) and the Salt and Pepper Shrimp, but these are best eaten while warm. The Crispy Salt & Pepper Fish (P599) was simple, but good – it is a simple fried fish, but the way it’s done just highlights how fresh the pompano was.
The broth from the Special Vietnamese Fish Soup (P999) was a balance of sour, sweet, salty. It’s similar to sinigang, but not as sour, and the pineapple was definitely a good addition! Instead of Vietnamese catfish, they use lapu-lapu.
For dessert, I liked the Vietnamese Coffee Jelly Float (P120). Tra Vinh makes their own ice cream and it’s so creamy. The coffee flavor is unmistakable.
They have other desserts that are some version of halo-halo. Michael told us that the desserts were not too sweet because many of those who order them are seniors. You can ask for extra syrup and coconut milk if you like your desserts to be sweeter an creamier.
For Vietnamese Coffee, go for the Light version. They use two different kinds of beans and I was recommended the light one that is imported from Vietnam, and it’s strong but not bitter. I got an iced coffee.
According to Michael, Tra Vinh has many Vietnamese regular customers. If the local Vietnamese like it, it must be authentic. He says all their Vietnamese recipes are from their Vietnamese partner.
For me, the food at Tra Vinh feels like good Vietnamese home cooking. Unpretentious, to the point, what you see is what you get. However, they don’t scrimp on the ingredients. The broths are cooked the way they are supposed to be cooked – they make a big batch, and once that’s used up, they make another batch. They don’t make one batch and just keep adding water to get more soup.
According to Michael, Tra Vinh aims for balanced flavors. He says that unlike Thai cuisine, where one flavor usually dominates, in Vietnamese cuisine, everything should be balanced, and there shouldn’t be one flavor that dominates the dish.
The dishes are comprised of so many ingredients – that is one thing I am happy about the food in Tra Vinh – they don’t scrimp on the ingredients called for in the recipes. If a dish calls for 15 different spices, it will have the 15 spices.
Tra Vinh serves their food just as it is. I wouldn’t say plain, because it’s not plain. I mean, it’s obviously a combination of so many flavors, but the the thing is, if like me, you like your food with a little more zing, you are very welcome to ask for extra lemon, extra sauce, extra herbs (like basil, mint, coriander), extra salt, etc… Just ask for what you want, no extra charge for these. They try not to waste food, so they don’t serve these extras unless customers ask for them. I totally understand – their prices are amazingly affordable. The problem is, first-timers might not know what other additions make a dish taste better, so they might finish their meal thinking the food was bland. To get the best experience, you really need to customize your food to your liking.
Being a Vietnamese restaurant, please expect there to be a lot of vegetables in almost every dish.
A note on MSG: Being an affordable restaurant, we asked Michael if they used msg, and he admitted that they did, to enhance the flavors. However, they use it very sparingly, and they use high quality msg from Vietnam. He says customers who are allergic to regular msg don’t even notice. They don’t use local msg, nor msg from Malaysia, Indonesia, etc… because those don’t meet their standards.
Update: I told my sis about this place. She’s been to Vietnam and she told me that the food really tastes like that in Vietnam (blander than what we are used to), since they’re all about the “fresh” taste. So that means that Tra Vinh’s flavors are what authentic Vietnamese food tastes like.
Pricing & San Juan branch
Your jaw will drop when you see the prices 😀
They sell a full bowl of noodles for only P200+ and they don’t scrimp on the toppings! Their broths are also really flavorful.
You can order the Vietnamese Pancake for only P290 and it’s enough for 2-3 people, but it’s better shared para di nakakasawa.
They are planning to open more branches, the next one to open will be in San Juan near Cafe Ysabel (P. Guevarra near Wilson). The prices will be slightly higher, the more upscale the location (higher rent), but they don’t expect the price difference to be that big.
A Source for Healing Herbal Soups?
Tra Vinh also makes some herbal soups that they recently added to the menu. They have goat, beef, pork knuckles, etc… they even have their version of Soup Number Five.
Michael was telling us about how some customers would order some of their soups to feed their children when they got sick, etc… because who has the time to make herbal soups from scratch nowadays?
They don’t have any delivery option, but you can pick up your orders.
Parking slots are available in front of the restaurant, but slots are limited. First come, first served. They have guards who can help you with parking.
Will I Come Back?
Most probably. The dishes are very affordable, and it’s really very difficult to find duck on the menu, especially as a noodle soup! I may not be crazy about duck, but J is, so I’ll probably be back to let him try it.
For me, I’m going back for the Banh Mi and the Spicy Combination soup, and maybe the Fried Prawn Spring Rolls, but I’m also curious to try their pork chop rice… I can’t decide!
Tra Vinh Vietnamese Restaurant
Unit 3, 109 NS Amoranto Corner Cordillera Street, Maharlika, Quezon City
Hours: 11 AM – 10 PM (Mon-Sun)
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