Tamarind Tree may be the belle of the Vietnamese restaurant ball, but hidden in plain sight right next door is Vietnam House. The crowds pack into Tamarind Tree, its glitzy lighting and people-pleasing cocktail lists well known to Seattle's food-loving crowd. Less than ten yards away, in the same strip mall, Vietnam House serves up equally delicious food in a far simpler setting. The Vietnamese-American gal who tipped me off to this hotspot didn't quite say that she and her friends laughed at people waiting in line for Tamarind Tree while they chowed down at Vietnam House, but she certainly hinted at it.
The single dining room of Vietnam House is mainly decorated with pieces of paper, scrawled with the names of dishes in Vietnamese, taped to the wall. These dishes, in addition to the section of house specialties listed towards the end of the near-novel-length menu, are the stars of the show. A colorful array of shrimp, pork, vegetables and crunchy crackers is listed as lotus root salad and offers the quintessential crunch of fresh vegetables flavored with fish-sauce-based dressing, which characterize Vietnamese food.
The setting might be a step down from its neighbor's, but the service doesn't suffer at Vietnam House. Our questions about dishes were answered promptly, our Heinekens set down with a smile. A comment from a server had us looking at the fish in claypot, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Buttery-fleshed fish fell apart in the slightly sweet sauce, which went perfectly over steamed rice. We rounded out the meal with a little veg, a version of the typical Chinese dish of ong choy with garlic.
Tamarind Tree might serve up the best Vietnamese food in Seattle for a Friday night, studded with lychee martinis and lit in fancy colors, but for a Monday night, when the goal is simply easy access to great food, Vietnam House does a spectacular job of serving up authentic Vietnamese dishes. The only downside? Whichever restaurant you choose, you're still trapped in the city's worst parking lot.