Thang Long Cuisine – Vietnamese Food You Want To Eat – Montavilla News

Meg Cotner
Disclosure: this meal was comped but my opinions are my own.
Thang Long Cuisine, located in the former Thai Fresh space, opened in April of this year. They have been updating their menu recently, and I was invited to stop by and taste a few things on it. The publisher of the Montavilla News, Jacob Loeb, was my dining companion.
As explained in a previous article on this site, “Thang Long Cuisine opened in the former Thai Fresh location at 8409 SE Division Street in late April, replacing  HÂP Fresh, which briefly occupied the space.” Minh Pham and his mother, Thuy Nguyen, run the place and are happy to feature Vietnamese dishes from the northern half of the country. We felt fortunate that Thuy was cooking for us this afternoon. 
Minh met us in the dining room and offered us any seat in the house, as we were the sole diners there at the time. The dining room is simple yet spacious, and the decor is what I would call minimalist—a series of bamboo steamer basket layers affixed to the wall, some large windows in the front, and a color scheme of red, black, and white throughout.
Jacob and I come from different points on the eating spectrum (he is vegan, I am not) but there were options for both of us. The first thing that came out was an appetizer: A salmon cocktail salad for me, cucumber salad for him. 
I really enjoyed the freshness of the salmon cocktail, which did not strike me as something I’d normally find in a Vietnamese restaurant. It was served in a large martini glass, with small, tender cubes of raw salmon accompanied by fresh fruit and vegetables—crunchy red bell pepper, sweet-tart pineapple bits, and what I believe was apple, though it could have been jicama (as is specified on the description), and some dill; cucumber was missing from the dish, though included in the dish’s description. Regardless, this was a great way to start the meal—the salmon was savory, set against the fruitiness of the other ingredients with a mix of textures, yielding a sweet, bright entry to our meal. I also loved its primary aroma of bell peppers.
We asked if salmon is something you’d see in traditional Vietnamese cuisine, and were assured that it wasn’t, but was a nod to the PNW and its bounty. 
The cucumber salad consisted of a pile of cucumbers sliced into rounds with a fluted edge, and was flavored with scallions and cilantro, topped with sesame seeds and sat in a light sweet sauce. Cucumber and cilantro is such a winning combination, and the sauce pulled everything together; I also liked how the sauce did not impede the natural crunchy texture of the cucumber. If you love cucumber, this is for you. 
They also served us a plate of vegan egg rolls, which were air-fried, not deep fried. Honestly, for me they were just ok; there was not much in the way of depth of flavor going on. However, I did really like their shape and size. That said, I would not order these again. 
At this point, the dining room started to feel a little warm. But we had these nice lime mojito mocktails to keep us cool. Note: the base is made with a mix, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not overly sweet or artificial tasting, which you get sometimes with premade mixers. The fresh mint packed a perfect herbal punch and added so much to the drink. I mean … mint and lime? Classic combination.
I’ll add that they have applied for a full on-premises liquor license, and will be serving cocktails and such when they have that in hand.
This spring roll is a specialty of Hai Phong city (a port city in northern Vietnam). Normally, you’ll see it served alongside Bun Cha. I love its square shape and how visually different it is from the more common tube shape. 
It was wonderfully crispy (the skin is made with a rice wrapper, not a wheat-based wrapper), and contained a filling of mostly-smooth ground crab (real crab, not surimi) that did not have any overly bright or herbal flavors in it (traditionally it includes shrimp, too). The filling flavor was warm and mellow, no spiciness, savory but not salty. It is very much a kind of comfort food.
I enjoyed the texture—both the filling and exterior. The crispness due to the rice paper fried in hot oil is super appealing, both texturally and aurally, especially when you first bite into it. The only drawback was that it was a little oily on the side sitting on the plate, but that did not stop me from eating both pieces, happily. 
We were both served Bun Cha—vegan for Jacob, pork for me. The pork version is the traditional treatment. From the Thang Long menu: “Bun cha Hanoi is a quintessential Northern Vietnamese dish that brings together smoky, succulent meat patties and pork belly slices in an umami-rich dipping sauce with tender vermicelli noodles, vibrant herbs, and crunchy pickles for a comforting and satisfying meal.” But this is Portland, and vegan options are a real plus on any menu. 
The vegan version had beautiful thin slices of carrot and paper-thin shavings of papaya floating in the sauce. The pork version included the aforementioned ground pork patties and pork belly along with the pickled carrot and papaya. 
Both of our dishes came with a plate containing a healthy mound of warm vermicelli noodles accompanied by a pile of fresh herbs, including mint, cilantro, basil, Thai basil, betel leaf, some lettuce, as well as slices of cucumber and hot peppers. The mix of noodles, herbs, sauce, and meat/veg is truly a mastery of flavors and textures. And while I find the basils and cilantro to be old friends as far as flavor goes, the betel leaf always surprises and delights me when I start to chew it. I know it’s considered bitter and spicy, but I find a kind of nuttiness in it, too. It’s really delicious. 
And I think my favorite taste of the meal was the ground pork patty in the Bun Cha (actually, two of them). Their humble look belied major good taste—porky, warm, and rich with a kind of meatiness that is deeply satisfying. Frankly, I could eat them every day. 
The above description of the sauce was right on target with the “umami-rich” description. A little sweetness was in there, too.
After the Bun Cha was served, we were offered these chunky salad rolls that featured a wide slice of fried tofu. Normally I see salad rolls containing raw tofu, so the fried tofu was new to me. Along with it was lettuce, vermicelli, jicama, and peanut dipping sauce. 
I loved the various kinds of crunch in the roll, especially the fried edges of the tofu, but the peanut sauce was not my cup of tea. It was too thick, like peanut butter rather than a sauce, no detectable sweetness (though a little spicy, which I liked), and tasted somewhat one-dimensional to me.
We were served a small metal ramekin of creme brulee and a plate of red grapes on the stem. It was a really nice way to end the meal. I have never found a creme brulee I haven’t liked, so I was eager to try it. 
And my streak of accessing tasty creme brulee continues. Very nice texture, a hint of ginger, and the small size was really appealing. There wasn’t a very thick caramelized sugar topping, but it was there, meaning it did not overwhelm the lightly sweet custard below. 
I do regret not asking for any of their dumplings, as they are quite popular, so that will have to be for another day. 
Overall, I enjoyed my meal and the comforting, easy-going flavors on their menu. This food is not “in your face” or aggressive. It’s very friendly, lighthearted, and comforting. Many thanks to Thuy and Minh for having us. Thang Long Cuisine can be found at 8409 SE Division Street in Portland.
Meg Cotner lives in NE Portland and is the editor and publisher of the independent Portland food news website Bridgetown Bites. She is also an active editor and writer, and the author of “Food Lovers’ Guide to Queens” (2023, Globe Pequot Press)
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