Tan Phat Vietnamese Restaurant
1512 N. Academy Blvd., Suite A, 203-5471, tanphatrestaurant.com
Owner My Pham, also our attentive waiter with a warm smile, operated another Vietnamese eatery in Upstate New York for nine years, he says, before taking over here in late 2013. He's kept the clean space starkly furnished under fluorescents, save for many house plants and a small altar at the register — where, true to Vietnamese custom, you pay at the end of your meal.
As noted by my former food colleague at our last visit in 2014, "Tan Phat's endearing precisely for its simplicity." My #34, a grilled shrimp and pork, and/or chicken vermicelli noodle bowl ($8.45), gains fresh crunch from shredded iceberg, sweet fishiness from poured nuoc cham sauce, and highlighting marinade and char flavor from the meats. The oily-textured #20, rice stick noodles with squid, shrimp and beef ($9.45), leads with a dry, earthy soy chili sauce heat, showered in lightly caramelized onions and bean sprouts. — MS
Coffee and Tea Zone
25 N. Tejon St., #101, 632-3887, coffeeandteazone.com
The clean, sharp branding on this café's three locations in town made me think it was a big-box national chain. The cardboard sleeves around their coffee cups even sport (expired) coupons for GUESS clothing. But no, it's locally owned, and I've been wrong before. When I stopped by, my barista recommended a chai ($3.50/16-ounce), calling it the best in town. I don't know about that, but it's darn good, with cardamom and other spices playing strong roles. It's a mix, but the proprietor refuses to tell me what brand — it's a secret.
What's no secret is that my turkey and swiss sandwich ($5.50) is overpriced. Sweet mayo and tangy mustard add flavor to wilted lettuce and a thick mount of lunch meat on what tastes like store-brand wheat bread. For dessert, we select a vegan espresso chip cookie ($2.75) from Sacramento, California-based Alternative Baking Company. Though a little grainy, the taste is right on, rich with coffee. — GS
2036 S. Academy Blvd., 591-8585
We usually start our meal with a kimchi pancake or tteokbokki (compressed rice in spicy sauce), and will continue to, given our disappointing jjin mandu ($6.99), pot-sticker-like steamed dumplings unevenly fried in this case, with both gooey and hard edges.
After a lengthy cook time at lunch, our soups ($7.99, each served with rice) arrive at rolling boils in earthenware, red hued and looking to scald from chili paste spice as well, but once cooled enough, they both sip at an approachable heat level. The sundubu jjigae spotlights soft, jiggly tofu (due to being unpressed to extract the water content, commonly called "silken") along with a mix of hashed proteins, including pork. The doenjang jjigae (called the easiest Korean dish to make, ubiquitous and treated as a comfort food) delivers a fermented soybean paste stew with zucchini and potatoes, plus baby shrimp, for a notably fishier, somewhat sour flavor, assisted by dried anchovies. — MS