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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Casual restaurant

Daily 10:00am–9:00pm

Bar Beer
Credit cards Visa, MC
Reservations Not accepted

Falls Church, VA
6795 Wilson Blvd.
Falls Church, VA
(703) 327-5712
Ngoc Anh
Buffets aren’t always a bad thing—especially when they help you navigate faraway flavors

In the brilliant Vietnamese arsenal that is the Eden Center mall—one of the culinary highlights of the greater DC area—it can be really difficult to choose your weapon. The usual methods of selecting the best (pick the place that’s most crowded, or pick the place that has the highest proportion of members of the restaurant’s purported ethnicity) don’t work here, because at prime times (especially lunch), a good portion of the places are crowded, and they’re crowded almost exclusively with Vietnamese people.

The food on offer in this white-walled, Spartan room—which fronts both the mall corridor and the sidewalk outdoors—is excellent, but it has an added advantage, for non-Vietnamese people, over the competition: it’s got a buffet.

Don’t be scared by this fact. This is not an all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s not a pan-Asian buffet. And for the most part, it’s not a buffet where things are sitting around getting cold. These are stew dishes and gravies that generally improve over time. And the unique opportunity created by the buffet is that of—instead of trying to navigate a confusing and poorly translated menu—pointing and choosing three or four or even six dishes, depending on your party size; figure on two per person. You pay for each individually; ask for the smallest portions they’re willing to dish out so that you can try more things.

The contents of the buffet change daily, but you might get to experience whole stewed or grilled fishes, served with aromatic combinations of herbs and fish sauce; a brilliant minced pork-and-eggplant stew that’s meant to be wrapped in a lettuce leaf before eating; or whole shrimp (you eat them that way—head, shell, and all) coated with a palm-sugary glaze that turns them into a sort of shrimp candy.

It is extremely difficult to go wrong at the buffet, but there are also some things that need to be ordered off the menu. Not to be missed, among those, is bo kho, an unbelievably complex broth of braised beef that marries subtle hints of winter-holiday-evocative sweet spice to bright, summery mint and cilantro and plays the crunch of bean sprouts off the soft sweetness of gently stewed carrots.

The disarming charm of the owners—in a mall where some staffs can be somewhat gruff to outsiders—is yet another element of Ngoc Anh’s unusual combination of user-friendliness and authenticity.

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