Moonlight Cafe is notable in the same way that a weird roadside attraction is notable: interesting, sort of, but mostly nobody gives a shit. It's pretty dirty inside. The tabletops feel gummy, somehow. The carpets are so grease-stained it looks like they hired BP to clean them. Neon light tubes snake their way across the walls and floors. And there's a weird waiting room, complete with a pleather couch and chairs, off to one side. What's going on here? It looks like the Max from Saved By the Bell, if it were run by the Triad.
You can expect most vegan cooking to look like it's been frosted with dog shit, just like this cupcake.
Is the food as puzzling as the interior? Answer: yes. Moonlight Cafe serves Vietnamese and Chinese food and has two menus: one regular menu and one vegan menu. Normally I wouldn't order anything from the vegan menu, but I wanted to be sporting, so we gave it a shot. The Bi Coun, or shredded tofu salad rolls, were pretty tasty. For $3.25 we got two rolls, filled with squiggly glass noodles, basil leaves, and finely shredded fried tofu, wrapped in a sticky clear caul of rice noodle wrapper. These were very refreshing on a hot day, and were accompanied by a big dish of some kind of cloying peanuty sauce.
Cha Gio ($2.95) are described on the menu as "Fried egg roll," but that pedestrian description doesn't do these things justice. We need to reanimate David Foster Wallace's suicidal corpse so that he can give the Cha Gio a more apt phrasing. That's because these "fried egg rolls" are the MEATIEST MOTHERFUCKING EGG ROLLS IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE.Yes, that's right, I said it: in the universe. Someday we'll encounter a race of aliens who also have egg roll technology, and they will instantly worship mankind as gods, for our Moonlight Cafe's meaty goddamned egg rolls will be clearly superior to their weak alien egg rolls, filled with fractals, or antimatter, or theoretical egg rolls that don't actually exist, or they're filled with some gross alien shit that no one wants to eat anyway, or whatever.
On the outside, the Cha Gio look like typical egg rolls: They're wrapped in a crispy rice wrapper, fried a comforting golden brown, and made translucent by the grease. But when you bite in, you realize that your teeth have just chomped through a metric shitload of ground pork. The ENTIRE THING is filled with ground pork and seasoned with some ginger and garlic. There's very little filler inside, except for a few measly lengths of glass noodles, which are obviously included in the filling as some sort of structural support, like rebar stuck into reinforced concrete. Engineering has never been so tasty!
The Pho Ap Chao Hai San ($7.25) was stupid and I hate it. The menu describes this as "Pan- fried rice noodle filled with seafood and vegetable," but it should be called "Pan-fried rice noodle filled with A BUNCH OF BULLSHIT." That's because it sucked. The pan fried noodle was actually quite interesting: a big cake of rice noodles was fried a crisp golden on the outside, chewy and bone-white within, and sliced into triangular wedges like pizza slices. I liked the noodle cake itself. If they'd merely served this plain, with some kind of sauce for dipping, I would have been thoroughly satisfied. Instead, they covered it with a depressing melange of overcooked scallops, squid, shrimp, and lame soggy vegetables in a gloopy sauce. Not since the BP oil spill has seafood deserved such vengeance against mankind.
I surprised the fuck out of myself by ordering the vegan General Tso's ($8.95). This strange iteration of my favorite dish substituted fried chunks of gluten for the usual chicken thigh meat. I don't understand gluten; vegans love it, but for everyone else, it's this decade's most villainous ingredient. If you followed the same people on Twitter that I do, you'd think gluten killed your kids and ran over your dog. And then gluten punched your loved ones in the nuts. But what's the big deal?
I expected the General Tso's gluten to taste like shit, but it was miraculously serviceable, even if the sauce was a bit cloying, and not nearly spicy enough. The accompanying broccoli was lightly steamed and tasted fresh. The gluten, while in no way reminiscent of any vertebrate animal, wasn't really that terrible. In fact, if you envisioned them as some sort of spongy, grainy dumplings, the General Tso's Gluten tasted mostly like a Lean Cuisine thing and not the blasphemous debacle I envisioned. I wish I could dump more venomous sarcasm upon this dish, but sadly, I can't. Compared to what I expected, it tasted great, but compared to the REAL General Tso's Chicken, it tasted dumb.
Moonlight Cafe is fucked up, but the super meaty egg rolls are damn tasty. If I were vegan I guess I would go there, because vegans probably don't have enough options. But luckily, I love to eat animals of all kinds. I also love gluten too. Just not when it's wadded up into nuggets and doused in imitation General Tso's sauce.
Rating: 5.5 imitations out of 10
Moonlight Cafe is located at 1919 South Jackson Street
To prank call them, dial 206-322-3378.