Road Trip from Philly to Virginia
Come with us on a road trip from Philadelphia to Virginia’s melting pot! The journey from Philadelphia is approximately 170 miles, roughly 2.5 hours away by car. Hop on I-95 southbound pass through Delaware, Maryland, and Washington DC. Chris Coles, a friend of ours, lives in the area of Falls Church. The neighborhood is known as Seven Corners, where Arlington, Falls Church, Mclean, Fairfax, Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads and Tyson Corner intersect. Chris happens to live right across the street from Eden Center, a large Vietnamese strip mall aka ‘Little Saigon’, a place you want to go for Authentic Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam.
Eden Center: Falls Church, Virginia
Eden Center: The Garden of Gastronomic Delights
After a 3-hour drive, it’s time to get some delicious Vietnamese food at the Eden Center. So many good options are available here, from Phở (noodle soup), Bánh mi (Vietnamese hoagie), Bánh cuốn (rice noodle crepes), to Cơm Tấm Sườn Bì Chả (broken rice with grill pork or chicken) and the list goes on…The Rice Paper restaurant seems promising because of the name and the large crowd of customers in the restaurant.
Rice Paper Truly Nourishes.
The restaurant is called “Rice Paper” because most of the dishes are served with sheets of dry rice paper which you dip into a bowl of water. The rice paper becomes a soft and translucent wrapping, which you can fill with any ingredients and make your own summer rolls. The dish is served with the Vietnamese dipping sauce, Nước chấm.
The menu is quite large, where everything sounds tasty. The Bánh Hoi Bò Nuong Xã (pictured below) is grilled lemongrass beef with thin Vermicelli rice noodles lettuces, purple perilla or Tia Tô leaves and basil.
You first soak the dry rice paper, then place all the ingredients onto the rice paper, and make a wrap. Dip the result into the Nước chấm sauce, and enjoy the happiness in your mouth.
A Short Video on How to Make the Rice Paper Wraps
One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes is Cơm Tấm Đặc Biệt, which is broken rice with grilled pork chops. The Rice Paper combo consists of broken rice with grilled pork chop, tofu stuffed with shrimp paste, grilled shrimp, shrimp rolls, shredded pork, pork meatloaf, and a sunny side fried egg. Served with lettuces, tomatoes, and Nước chấm (sweet fish sauce).
Don’t be afraid to pour in a generous amount of that sauce! I normally pour in the entire thing and some Siracha on the side of the plate for dipping. 🙂
Quite a spread! And it’s only a total of $38.00! Say whuuuuttt!?!?
A fine meal calls for fine wine. Not too far from Falls Church is a stunning winery 21 miles away, The Winery at Bull Run, located in Centreville, Virginia.
They offer horseback riding, tour and wine tasting options for which may vary in prices. The wine bottles range from $30 and up and it’s BYOF (bring your own food). Perfect atmosphere for a picnic.
If you choose not to do the tour, wine tasting is only $15 bucks. Sample their delicious white and red wines.
After you are done sampling, the wine glasses are yours to take home. So good souvenir to bring back home.
Hearty Elegance with Wine and Pizza
Forget about cheese and wine: pizza and wine is the next great combination. There is a pizza truck outside of the winery that makes pretty good wood fire oven pizzas. A good way to end the night with good friends, a relaxing and beautiful atmosphere, fine wine, and pizza! 🙂
The next day we decided to visit Chef Seng’s restaurant Padaek ປາແດກ (former known and Bangkok Golden), on the Seven Corners shopping center. Padaek means “fish sauce” in Lao; the condiment is made with fermented freshwater fish and is much thicker than the traditional fish sauce you find at the local Asian Supermarket. Both restaurants, run by Chef Seng Luangrath, specialize in authentic Laotian cuisine. Our first taste of Chef Seng’s Laotian cooking was at ThipKao, a sister restaurant in Washington, DC. The food is absolutely fantastic. Padaek is just as good, and they have authentic Lao beer, as well!
Two options menu, Thai or Lao. Guess which one we choose?
Lao-style beef jerky is sweet and savory at the same time. The beef is marinated with various sauces and spices, then air-dried outside with the sun giving it meat to be a jerky texture. Sweet, chewy, moist and tender meat….yum!
Just dip a piece into Jaew Bong ແຈ່ວບອງ (sweet chili paste dip) and a ball of Sticky Rice, you’re good to go!
Sai Oua ໄສ້ອັ່ວ
A Lao sausage with ground pork tastes of fragrant seasoning with salt and fish sauce, a mix of chilies, garlic, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and cilantro. Thai food uses simpler ingredients, but to me, Lao dishes tend to have a spicier kick, hence the ‘Lao Hot’, and I absolutely love it! The sausage is not spicy but very juicy, sweet, nutty and smokey.
Chueng Nok, fried quail marinated with ginger and black pepper. The bird is so crispy that you can even eat the bones if you choose to.
Feeling Spoiled by Chef Seng
As a bonus, Chef Seng and her staff offered us something special that is off the menu. I could be wrong, but I believe these are Wild Betel leaves fill with eggplants, shredded purple cabbages, tomatoes, lemongrass, peanuts, and ginger roots. Very interesting and colorful dish.
Lao-style Pork is Healthful Pork.
I believe this is a crispy salad with pork skins, Lao sausage, tiny pieces of crispy rice, cilantro, mint, shallots, chilies, coconut, scallions, fish sauce, lime juice, and peanuts. Very extinct Lao flavors with a sweet, savory, spicy, nutty and minerally from all the herbs and spices. Add a heaping scoop of crispy salad onto a lettuce leaf to make a wrap and enjoy the goodness.
Special thanks to Chef Seng and her staff for the fabulous food and hospitality! Definitely, a delicious destination, if you’re a foodie that travels for food.
Before heading back to Philly, back to Eden Center for a quick fix of Vietnamese Iced Coffee (cà phê sữa đá) and a light snack. This one of our favorite iced coffees. Slowly dripped coffee with condensed milk is quite strong and refreshing.
A Taste of Northern Vietnam
Tucked inside the Saigon East building, there is a small cafe named Bánh Cuốn Thăng Long that specializes in Bánh cuốn are freshly steamed rice flour sheets or crepes. The chef steamed the rice paper with minced pork, wood ear mushrooms, and dried shrimp. Topped with fried shallots and served with a few slices of Vietnamese pork roll (Chả Lụa), cucumbers, cilantro, and in addition some sort of fried donut. Of course, a cup that sweet fish sauce again, Nước chấm. A taste of Northern Vietnam in Virginia!
Northern Virginia or Nova, a historic region just southwest of Washington D.C. A place with diverse backgrounds and shopping centers and malls. A place where you can have a taste of Vietnam and Laos without leaving the country. Wine tasting at a winery with a lot of history behind it. Sip a cup of tea catching up with old friends and new ones. All in all, it was an awesome road trip, see again you soon Virginia!
Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter to receive great travel tips, how to cook Asian recipes and where to find the best restaurants!