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A Star Is Born 

Saigon Stars shines bright with its Vietnamese cuisine

If you live in Manitou or on the West Side, restaurant options are rather sparse before you hit downtown. To be sure, the area's few dining establishments enjoy a loyal clientele, and rightfully so. But there's always room for company on the west-end dining circuit, and Saigon Stars makes a great addition.

Overlooking the intersection of Highway 24 and 26th Street, Saigon Stars opened about three months ago in what used to be Hunan Dragon Chinese Restaurant. With the giant red-and-yellow sign out front, you can't miss the place -- nor should you.

The extensive menu, featuring over 300 tantalizing items, is something to behold. Like its predecessor, Saigon Stars offers Chinese fare, but its Vietnamese selections will get you hooked.

More exotic than the Chinese, the Vietnamese selections lean heavily toward seafood. Several entrees include catfish, sea bass, scallops, shrimp, squid, mussels, lobster and crab. On the even more exotic end, you'll find frogs' legs. The Chinese portion, while extensive, sticks to familiar standards. Add to that the Chef's Specialties, and you're in for some tough decisions.

I managed to avoid this problem on my first visit, as I was there for a friend's birthday -- along with nine others. Since none of us could make up our minds, we narrowed the choices down to the dishes we all wanted to try, voted, and ordered the top ten. It was the most democratic food-ordering process I've ever experienced.

We began with appetizers from the Vietnamese portion of the menu: Vegetarian spring rolls ($1.25 each, but they're huge and can be split) and Cha Gio Tom Cua -- shrimp-and-crab egg rolls ($6.95 for three).

The spring rolls consist of tofu, shredded veggies (carrots and zucchini), and loads of rice noodles all wrapped in a fine rice paper. The tofu is chopped into bite-sized pieces, adding texture while not intruding upon the flavor.

The shrimp-and-crab egg rolls, lightly fried and stuffed to the hilt, were delectable. Accompanied by a clear, sweet-and-sour dipping sauce, they were a table favorite.

We ordered entrees from both menus but the Vietnamese dishes were found to be superior to the Chinese, overall. Subsequent visits have yielded similar results.

Standouts included the Ca Ri Chay ($11.95) -- tofu, mushrooms, baby corns, bamboo and broccoli cooked with coconut milk in curry sauce (also available with beef, chicken or shrimp). Served in a wide bowl, it's basically a soup curry, though the plentiful vegetables give it interest. On the spice scale, it had zing -- just enough to leave a slight burn and give you the sniffles. And the aromas of garlic and ginger were so fresh and potent that I could taste the food before it ever reached my mouth.

Another dish that produced a similar Pavlovian response was the scallops stir-fried with butter and garlic ($10.95) -- simple, yet savory. Had I not been in public, I would have licked the plate clean.

Other highlights include the chicken sauted with vegetables and lemongrass ($7.95), chicken in spicy ginger sauce ($7.95), and a combination of shrimp, scallops, squid and muscles sauted with coconut milk and lemongrass in curry sauce ($10.95). Again, these dishes were incredibly fragrant and flavorful, always with a nice hint of garlic. While I am not a squid fan, this ingredient worked well in the mix of tender seafood.

Note to heat lovers: While the above entrees were denoted hot and spicy, they were mild in my book. Had the food not been so flavorful, this would have been a bigger point of contention.

I did not care for either of the Chinese entrees we tried, the sesame chicken ($7.95) or the hot-and-spicy chicken ($7.25). They were not nearly as flavorful as the other dishes, and the chicken was almost spongy. And again, while both were marked hot and spicy on the menu, each lacked heat.

Saigon Stars also serves traditional noodle bowls (aka Bun). My favorite is the Bun Bo Xao (beef stirred with lemongrass), which I ordered to go the first time I tried it. Before I was out of the parking lot, a sweet, ginger-and-scallion fragrance had enveloped the inside of my car; my mouth watered with anticipation. Once home, I discovered a huge mound of rice noodles, topped with lettuce, mint, bean sprouts, shredded carrots and cucumbers, and delicious stir-fried beef. Combined with the special house sauce and -- Holy hotness! -- this dish was a flavor explosion in my mouth. The heat was welcome, and served to intensify the flavors, but it also emphasized that Saigon Stars is inconsistent in this area, given how other dishes had so lacked spice.

Despite the heat dilemma, I plan many more trips to Saigon Stars. Though I'm forever faithful to my other West Side dining haunts, it's nice to add one more to the rotation.

If you live in Manitou or on the West Side, restaurant options are rather sparse before you hit downtown. To be sure, the area's few dining establishments enjoy a loyal clientele, and rightfully so. But there's always room for company on the west-end dining circuit, and Saigon Stars makes a great addition.

Overlooking the intersection of Highway 24 and 26th Street, Saigon Stars opened about three months ago in what used to be Hunan Dragon Chinese Restaurant. With the giant red-and-yellow sign out front, you can't miss the place -- nor should you.

The extensive menu, featuring over 300 tantalizing items, is something to behold. Like its predecessor, Saigon Stars offers Chinese fare, but its Vietnamese selections will get you hooked.

More exotic than the Chinese, the Vietnamese selections lean heavily toward seafood. Several entrees include catfish, sea bass, scallops, shrimp, squid, mussels, lobster and crab. On the even more exotic end, you'll find frogs' legs. The Chinese portion, while extensive, sticks to familiar standards. Add to that the Chef's Specialties, and you're in for some tough decisions.

I managed to avoid this problem on my first visit, as I was there for a friend's birthday -- along with nine others. Since none of us could make up our minds, we narrowed the choices down to the dishes we all wanted to try, voted, and ordered the top ten. It was the most democratic food-ordering process I've ever experienced.

We began with appetizers from the Vietnamese portion of the menu: Vegetarian spring rolls ($1.25 each, but they're huge and can be split) and Cha Gio Tom Cua -- shrimp-and-crab egg rolls ($6.95 for three).

The spring rolls consist of tofu, shredded veggies (carrots and zucchini), and loads of rice noodles all wrapped in a fine rice paper. The tofu is chopped into bite-sized pieces, adding texture while not intruding upon the flavor.

The shrimp-and-crab egg rolls, lightly fried and stuffed to the hilt, were delectable. Accompanied by a clear, sweet-and-sour dipping sauce, they were a table favorite.

We ordered entrees from both menus but the Vietnamese dishes were found to be superior to the Chinese, overall. Subsequent visits have yielded similar results.

Standouts included the Ca Ri Chay ($11.95) -- tofu, mushrooms, baby corns, bamboo and broccoli cooked with coconut milk in curry sauce (also available with beef, chicken or shrimp). Served in a wide bowl, it's basically a soup curry, though the plentiful vegetables give it interest. On the spice scale, it had zing -- just enough to leave a slight burn and give you the sniffles. And the aromas of garlic and ginger were so fresh and potent that I could taste the food before it ever reached my mouth.

Another dish that produced a similar Pavlovian response was the scallops stir-fried with butter and garlic ($10.95) -- simple, yet savory. Had I not been in public, I would have licked the plate clean.

Other highlights include the chicken sauted with vegetables and lemongrass ($7.95), chicken in spicy ginger sauce ($7.95), and a combination of shrimp, scallops, squid and muscles sauted with coconut milk and lemongrass in curry sauce ($10.95). Again, these dishes were incredibly fragrant and flavorful, always with a nice hint of garlic. While I am not a squid fan, this ingredient worked well in the mix of tender seafood.

Note to heat lovers: While the above entrees were denoted hot and spicy, they were mild in my book. Had the food not been so flavorful, this would have been a bigger point of contention.

I did not care for either of the Chinese entrees we tried, the sesame chicken ($7.95) or the hot-and-spicy chicken ($7.25). They were not nearly as flavorful as the other dishes, and the chicken was almost spongy. And again, while both were marked hot and spicy on the menu, each lacked heat.

Saigon Stars also serves traditional noodle bowls (aka Bun). My favorite is the Bun Bo Xao (beef stirred with lemongrass), which I ordered to go the first time I tried it. Before I was out of the parking lot, a sweet, ginger-and-scallion fragrance had enveloped the inside of my car; my mouth watered with anticipation. Once home, I discovered a huge mound of rice noodles, topped with lettuce, mint, bean sprouts, shredded carrots and cucumbers, and delicious stir-fried beef. Combined with the special house sauce and -- Holy hotness! -- this dish was a flavor explosion in my mouth. The heat was welcome, and served to intensify the flavors, but it also emphasized that Saigon Stars is inconsistent in this area, given how other dishes had so lacked spice.

Despite the heat dilemma, I plan many more trips to Saigon Stars. Though I'm forever faithful to my other West Side dining haunts, it's nice to add one more to the rotation.

  • Saigon Stars shines bright with its Vietnamese cuisine

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