Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Thanh Van - The Best Little Hidden Vegan Restaurant in Northern Virginia

About a hundred years ago, before Barack Obama won his second term, and Super Storm Sandy Made an appearance, my parents came to town (OK, it was a little over two weeks ago, but you get the idea). I performed the usual Google searches to see if any new all-vegetarian restaurants had popped up since they had last been in town. Thanks to Yelp, I found that here was a Vietnamese restaurant just about 10 minutes away: Thanh Van. Whoo!

On Friday afternoon, while Shira was out running errands, I took my parents over to the Eden Center to stop in for a bite. I've been by the Eden Center, but never really into it. Never really had a reason to, I guess.

We arrived, and with the name of the restaurant in hand, started searching around. Holy Smokes. I haven't felt this culturally disoriented...since...well, probably never. The Eden Center is huge, from first glance, nearly ever sign is in (what appears to me) to be Vietnamese. Signs like this one were the norm:

(Got all that?)

I knew from the Yelp review that I would find Thanh Van on the inside of the mall, but wandering around only left me more confused. I asked a couple of folks standing around and nobody had any ideas. Finally, I asked a woman if there was a vegan restaurant near by - she had no idea what I was talking about. Then I mentioned, vegetarian -- ahhh, that she knew of. She pointed me across the parking lot and off I went with my parents.

After going down yet another hallway filled with cafes and shops, I found it. The only encouragement that I had found a vegan restaurant was the phrase "SPECIAL Diet Vegetable" in the main sign in the entrance way. See:

We stepped inside, past a compact buffet of hot foods and were seated in the small cafe. Two important looking individuals - one a man, one a woman - helped us get oriented. I've ordered Vietnamese a number of times, but it's usually nothing to write home about. We ended up getting one order of Pho, another spicy soup and one sampler from the buffet. One of our servers actually took my mom up to the buffet and together they put together a heaping pile of food (not sure if that's standard, or if they were just helping out a rookie).

Here's the part that really matters: the food was absolutely outstanding. The buffet was filled with what appeared to be mock-meat dishes, and they had excellent flavors and textures. Certainly as good as any vegan chinese restaurant I've been to, if not better. I thought I'd tasted every way to flavor/cook tofu and the like - apparently, I was wrong. The soups were also excellent, though I probably need to spend some time learning proper Pho technique before I'm really there.

The service was warm and attentive. They may have laughed themselves silly at the way we at our food, but they couldn't have been kinder to us.

The place is small and very much an informal cafe. So you'll want to dial back any expectations of fancy ambiance. But the food more than made up for that, and the casual atmosphere lends itself to asking questions.

I truly felt like a tourist, and even snapped some photos of the food. It was so much fun, I couldn't resist:

Finally, here's what you need to do to find this place. First, drive here:

View Larger Map

Next, look for this doorway:

Walk down the hall, which should look like this:

Near the end of the hallway, find Thanh Van:

You may have an adventure going there, but it'll definitely be worth it!


  1. A great place for us non-vegans as well. Sometimes I have no idea what I've just ordered, but I haven't gotten a bad dish yet.

  2. Anonymous8:33 PM

    i loveeeeee eden center.