At lunchtime, the North Market is kind of like the best mall food court you could dream up.
Instead of Subway subs, you get great corned beef sandwiches from Barry's Deli. Instead of congealed Sbarro slices, you get expertly assembled New York-style pizza from Sarefino's.
And instead of the token ethnic option (would you like to sample some bourbon chicken?), you get a treasure trove of worldly offerings. Curries at Flavors of India, sushi at Nida's, crepes at Taste of Belgium.
Then there's Lac Viet, my top recommendation for newbies looking to get acquainted with the wonderful world of Vietnamese cuisine.
The menu is short and sweet, with just a small sampling of tried-and-true Vietnamese favorites, including tasty sandwiches (bahn mi) and intricately flavored soups (pho). The ingredients are spelled out in English, and each dish is numbered so you don't have to worry about stumbling over the pronunciation.
If you haven't been in a while, a recent move to a bigger location just a few booths down provides some welcome extra counter seating.
#10 Com/Bun Thit Bo, $6
I adore the fresh and clean flavors and delightful combination of hot and cold found in Lac Viet's broken rice dishes, especially the Com/Bun Thit Bo (aka # 10). Don't be intimidated by the name. Here's a quick breakdown: com = rice, bun = noodles and thit bo = beef.
So what you get is a deep and wide noodle bowl loaded with broken rice (an Asian specialty, basically pieces of rice broken in half, adding some great textural appeal), rice vermicelli noodles and plenty of thin slices of nicely marinated and grilled beef.
Plopped next to the warm rice/noodle concoction is a small salad of cold and crunchy diced cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots plus lettuce and sprouts. Some fresh cilantro is sprinkled throughout, and everything's doused in a vaguely citrus-tasting salad dressing.
This dish is by no means spicy, but I shook on some of the bright-red-hot sriracha sauce sitting on the counter to add just enough tasty heat.
As a huge fan of Thai iced tea, a smoky and sweet drink made with condensed milk, I was eager to try the similar Vietnamese beverage, Ca Phe Sua, #12 on Lac Viet's menu.
A blend of condensed milk, ice and super-strong Vietnamese coffee (ca phe = coffee and sua = milk), this dark-chocolate-colored drink is instantly addictive. The intense coffee base gets slightly sweetened by the milk, making for a guaranteed quick pick-me-up as well as a reliable counterbalance to sometimes-spicy Southeast Asian fare.