Cafe Song is now closed
Cafe Song is another entry in a rather impressive cadre of quality Vietnamese restaurants in the KC metro. I will say, however, that it is not my favorite among them.
Located near Quivira and 75th in a strip mall, it can be somewhat difficult to locate from the road. But it is a fairly sizable space with attractive, modern, but casual decor. I’ve been two times now and the place has been frighteningly empty on both occasions. The whole shebang appears to be staffed by two people: a youngish waiter with a pony tail (bad move dude) and a Vietnamese woman who does the cooking.
The menu attempts to be a little classier and more interesting than more traditional Vietnamese spots. There are at least 5 kinds of Ban Mih (basically a sandwich), but only a couple kinds of Pho (noodle soup) and Bun (cold noodle salad). They also feature wacky offering like meatball subs and hamburgers, and no, this is not the kids menu I’m talking about. The food is good here, but I’m not touching their meatball sandwich with a ten foot pole.
The food is good enough, but presentation and portions are a tad lacking. Pho comes with a whole assortment of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, lime wedges, etc. which is pretty typical. But the Bun dishes, usually accompanied by lovely piles of ground peanuts, shredded carrots, bean sprouts, meat, mint/cilantro, is merely a bowl of noodles with some shredded carrots and meat. Oh yeah, there is also some dried garlic sprinkled throughout which is actually an excellent addition.
So basically, it looks more like $5 meal than a $9 one.
For my money, Vietnam Cafe, Sung Son and Hien Vong are all better options. But for Johnson County, are there other Vietnamese gems out there?
So, basically underwhelming. I’ve put off reviewing this one for a while because there’s just not a lot to say either negatively or positively. I’m not one of those people who has something great to say about every meal I eat, not something bad to say for that matter. Cafe Song is nice, but I just don’t get real jazzed up about the prospect of going back often. It is not a good space to be a lone diner because it is so quiet and there’s nothing to look at except people walking into Starbucks and Planet Sub across the street. But maybe with a small group it would be more interesting.
All this being said, I’m really happy to see how many Vietnamese places there are, even in the reaches of Johnson County. I don’t think I’ve come close to visiting them all, but I will try.
I am off next Monday,how about lunch for all who want to join only in JoCo. Either I or you can post.
unfortunately next Monday is no good for me. Maybe I’ll take this to the Google group and see if we can hash out a time for a joco lunch offline.
There really is a Vietnamese sandwich (or just with bread) that is called xiu mai
It is actually quite tasty. I haven’t tried the one over at Cafe Song, but my mother-in-law, from Vietnam, makes it on occasion.
As far as Vietnamese in JOCO goes, there is at least one more place: Samurai Teriyaki. I know.
I believe the owner (who is Vietnamese) thought that us unsophisticated midwestern suburbanites would have an easier time with “Teriyaki” than “Vietnamese”, most people around here probably aren’t that ok with either one. You’d have to go in and check it out for yourself. Perhaps chat with the owner.
Anyway, I’ve only been there once. The Pho, at the time I had it, had delicious broth and tender meat, sliced very thin and added to the broth to cook, very traditional …except, WTF?, the basil and sprouts were minimal and already in the bowl! Plus, I think I had to ask for siracha and hosin.
(I also tried a bite of my friends Phad Thai and it tasted great; I don’t know if it would be considered authentic, but it was tasty)
I’d be interested in a JOCO lunch too.
/end of ramble
I have to confirm jh’s take on Xiu Mai. Very authentic home cooking, delicious, and a staple in HCMC.
The little lady cooking is the owner, Tran Thi Cam Van, and has only been in the US for 2 years; 9 months of which were cooking at the restaurant. She only knows how to cook Vietnamese the way the women in her family have cooked for generations. The fusion foods such as the Ribs, Squash soup and items on the Prix Fixe menu are influences of the more modern Vietnames restaurants found in California and Houston, TX.
Vietnamese has become familiar to many Americans and the chef’s don’t have a problem experimenting and branching out with fusion dishes. A novel concept in Shawnee, but quite normal in Saigon.
There is actually three other Vietnamese which work in the restaurant prepping and cooking appetizers, etc. Dish washing and wait staff have generally not been Vietnamese.
The menu expanded on May 18th, and you’ll find the full compliments of Pho varieties as well as a surprize with the Prix Fixe menu.
Lunch has never been a stong suit, but professional food critics and the large number of repeat customers have kept the restaurant in business longer than any former restaurant in that (admittedly) less than picture perfect location.
You might mention in your blog posting that those pictures are not food from Cafe Song. You can find real pictures on Cafe Song’s website, http://www.cafesong.com.
Deeply saddened you aren’t pleased with us.
(The husband of the owner)
Aw jeez…Rod I would hardly say I wasn’t pleased with Cafe Song. The service was great and the food was good. I’ve just had better lunch experiences, particularly with presentation, at other vietnamese restaurants.
I was indeed remiss not to mention the prix fixe menu, even though that is more of a dinner thing. It did look quite interesting and makes Cafe Song more than your typical vietnamese hole in the wall. It’s hard for me to remember all the details sometimes.
Keep in mind that I have basically zero clout, I don’t get paid for this, and don’t really have any credentials whatsoever!
Regardless, I am pleased you found me and gave me your well-articulated two cents.
I’m happy for any press, good or bad. I certainly dinn’t feel you were being harsh, I just wanted to introduce our staff and our goal.
Rather than dismiss Midwesterners as being too unsiophisticated that we dumb down the menu like the Teriaki place, we believe Midwesterners are sophisticated enough to venture into the pan-asian fusion while still keeping traditional Vietnamese on the menu,
Nice blog and keep up the nice reporting.
Vietnam Cafe on 39/Rainbow (KS side) is dang tasty. Love their rice paper rolls – their peanut sauce is yum. Also a big fan of their pho. My friend (who happens to be Vietnamese) turned me on to them and I’m hooked. Good prices, good service, good food.
(found you via twitter)
Yay twitter is good for something! welcome to my perverse little culinary world, KM. At first I thought you meant vietnam cafe in columbus park, which is one of my all time favorites–perhaps there is a connection beyond the name?
Anyhow, thanks for the tip, i hope to make the trip soon. vietnamese spring rolls are my version of bon bons so I’m eager visit and overindulge.
Forgive me, as I’ve just discovered your really cool dining blog. My family has a particular interest in Vietnamese food as my husband is from Southeast Asia. We tried Cafe Song not long after they opened. We were sorely disappointed with the pho. The portion was small for the price, came with little vegetables and the noodles were horrifically bloated. I’ve never had such awful pho in all my life. Even my homemade 5 minute pho, as I call it, is better than that and I’m a white girl. Their papaya salad was nothing like I’ve ever tasted before. Typically papaya is smothered in fish sauce, hot pepper, peanuts and other seasoning. Their papaya tasted like they poured a bottle of sweet sauce on top. Yuck. Although I will admit we usually order papaya from Lao, Thai and Hmong restaurants, not Vietnamese, so maybe there is a difference. We’ve discovered over time that when it comes to ethnic dining the more smaller, less decorated a restaurant looks the better the food tastes. Some of our favorite food is sold at a flea market in St. Paul and out of the backs of Asian grocery stores. Here in town we just love Hien Vong at the city market and have been regulars there for nearly 10 year now.
Looks like this place is now closed.
The banner has been removed
and the place looks packed up.
Another one bites the dust I guess. What am I the kiss of death? Thanks for the tip JM, it’s been duly noted.
[…] had to try a Vietnamese dish since this cuisine is hard to find in that part of the metro after Cafe Song’s demise a couple years […]