An Open Letter To Yelp Reviewers of Vietnamese Restaurants

Bánh bèo, the pride of central Vietnamese food
Bánh bèo, the pride of central Vietnamese food

Dear would-be connoisseurs of Vietnamese food:

We've never met, but I've read your body of work on Yelp. Some of you really get it, and I bookmark places I think look likely. The nice thing about Vietnamese food is that no matter how often I eat it, there's more to learn--and I've been introduced to more than one favorite by sites like Yelp and Chowhound. Some of you are making your first forays into a new cuisine, an admirable step, made more admirable by admissions like "perhaps I don't understand" when you are panning a dish...

... and then there are those of you who make reading Little Saigon-area reviews an exercise in frustration. Your M.O. seems to be peremptory dismissal of an entire cuisine because you went one time with firm guards up against having a good time. It wouldn't be such a big deal, except that Yelp reviews have a concrete effect on businesses, and not everyone has the finely-tuned crap detector I've developed in years of reading that site. Following these few suggestions will make your experience better and my time on Yelp better spent.
1. Please stop with the dog jokes.

Not funny anymore. Not that it ever was. Seriously.
Not funny anymore. Not that it ever was. Seriously.

"What do you call a man walking a dog in Garden Grove?" "A vegetarian." Oh, how droll. Did you think that up all by yourself, or did it come from a time capsule from thirty-plus years ago, when ignorant jokes about Vietnamese refugees were all the rage? If the meat was poor quality, say so in your Yelp review, but don't intimate that it might have died with a woof instead of a moo. It's a tired stereotype, and it just makes you look bigoted and stupid when you say it. No Vietnamese restaurant in California serves dog meat. Get over it.

2. Learn to order what everyone else is ordering.

Not available in every Vietnamese restaurant--sorry.
Not available in every Vietnamese restaurant--sorry.

Vietnamese restaurants are specialists, much mores than Americans. A phở shop sells beef (or chicken) noodle soup and not much else. A Central Vietnamese restaurant is going to specialize in food from the region around Huế and Đà Nẵng, which means the most likely soup on the menu is bún bò Huế. Complaining on Yelp that they don't sell phở (or they do, and it's bad) when they're not a phở shop is like walking into Kentucky Fried Chicken and bitching that they don't serve hamburgers. Vietnamese restaurants here in Orange County trumpet their specialities on the windows. When in doubt, look at what the Vietnamese families in the restaurant are eating; chances are, they've ordered what the restaurant is known for. If that fails, look for the words đặc biệt on the menu--it means "house special".

3. The Vietnamese know there's more to a cow than ribeye.

Don't fear the tendons...
Don't fear the tendons...

By far the biggest complaint about Vietnamese food--not the restaurants, but the food--is that it's full of scary, squiggly bits. Yes, you can get phở tái (rare slices of filet mignon) or phở chín (brisket), but you're missing out on some of the seminal parts of phở. By complaining about it, you're reducing your credibility--and if you really hate all those internal bits of non-steak meat, please don't order them. Chicken with bones in is tastier than boneless chicken (and if you're one of those people for whom even chicken drumsticks are too exotic, you are frankly beyond help).



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