Dong Phuong is a bakery and a sit-down restaurant. Both are essential, and both are affordable, quick ,and causal enough that there really is no reason not to have some food from each side of the business.
The restaurant mostly seves Vietnamese noddle soup, beef pho in particular. The broth isn’t classically Vietnamese. Although made with the same aromatics of star anise and cinnamon, it’s sweeter and the spices are more pungent. This is a reflection of the fact that Louisianans simply won’t tolerate under-seasoned food. It’s a wonderful bowl of soup, full of tender cuts of beef and toothsome rice noodles. The thinly-sliced top round centerpiece is served rare, but it can be cooked in the hot soup to the temperature you desire. As is customary, a plate of fresh herbs and bean sprouts is served alongside. Less customary: the cabbage on the herb plate.
Also recommended is the Bun Rieu, a favorite Vietnamese dish, and a house specialty. Rounder vermicelli noodles are floating in a salty, crabby broth with crab and pork meat balls, krab stick, fish cake, tofu, and tomatoes. This dish captures the essence of crab and enhances it with other sweet and fishy compliments. Any soup here is enormous, and will spoil your appetite for the wonderful stuff happening at the bakery. The bakery goods will be good for a second meal later, but anyway, Dong Phuong is worth two trips
The banh mi are superb — some of the best outside of Vietnam, even if they don’t resemble those you’ll find on the streets of Saigon. Vietnamese sandwiches are usually lightly-filled and meant to feature fresh bread. These sandwiches are over-stuffed with meat and veggies. The authentically Vietnamese touch does come from the excellent fresh baguettes that are baked on-premise. This bread is the base for banh mi at Vietnamese restaurants across the New Orleans area. It has a crust like tender peeling bark and a soft interior. A roast pork banh mi is filled with a pastrami-like heap of salty meat with a delicate lemongrass flavor. The traditional compliments of pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro, and slices of jalapeño are all generously apportioned, while a custardy yellow mayo is given a restrained application.
Also served are some of Louisiana’s finest meat and crawfish pies. Again, these aren’t according to local tradition, but more like a Vietnamese revision of local pies. Cajun meat markets usually don’t add bamboo and straw mushroom to their crawfish pie. No matter, it’s delightful. The best baked good is the pate chaud, which contains very peppery ground meat and gravy inside a puff pastry shell. You’ll want more than a few of these bites of heaven.
One of our favorite things about eating in a Vietnamese restaurant or bakery is getting a cup of coffee — coffee syrupy thick and strong enough to make your eyes water. Coffee this brutal can only be lightened and sweetened by an equal force, condensed milk. If you prefer black, we recommend getting it iced and drinking it slowly, allowing the melting ice to slowly restore sanity to the brew.
Dong Phuong Bakery serves great baked goods and soups that have been tastefully adapted to their new home. It’s not exactly Vietnamese. It’s not exactly Cajun. It’s not exactly Viet-Cajun (which you’ll find more around Houston), but it sure is delicious.