NJ Dining: Simply Vietnamese

Simply Vietnamese
1 Highwood Avenue, Tenafly NJ

If you’ve been following Off The Broiler and my various on-line projects for the last ten years, you’re probably aware that I’m a big fan of Khanh “K.T.” Tran’s cooking. Simply Vietnamese, which just opened on September 19th, 2010, is KT’s fifth restaurant to hit Bergen County in the last 15 years.

I first encountered KT’s cuisine at a small takeout in Cliffside Park right around the corner from my  apartment shortly after when I changed from New Yorker to permanent New Jersey resident in 1999. In 2002, she outgrew her takeout place and opened Saigon Republic in Englewood, a tiny hole-in-the-wall with tight seating for maybe 20 people but quickly garnered a very loyal following as well as critical acclaim by the local restaurant media.

In October of 2006, KT opened Mo’ Pho’, a much larger restaurant on Main Street in Fort Lee. While both restaurants continued to do well, the original Saigon Republic (which ironically, was forced to change its name to “Saigon R.” due to legal wrangling from a jealous, completely unrelated restaurant with a similar name in NYC) became something of a victim of its own success.

Because the restaurant was so small and patrons were fighting their way to get in, Saigon R. could never turn enough tables or be indefinitely sustainable with the high rents in Englewood and the shrinking local economy.

It also didn’t help that Palisade Avenue in Englewood is an absolute parking nightmare and the restaurant’s weak air conditioning system was constantly fighting to work in the hot summer months, a big issue that I always had with the tiny place and forced me, reluctantly, to become more of a patron of its Fort Lee sibling.

So in August of 2010, KT closed Saigon Republic — a decision which I know weighed on her with a heavy heart — and quickly re-opened in her home town of Tenafly in a much larger space which I think patrons will enjoy much much more.

And if it’s any indication after two days of being open, Simply Vietnamese is already packing the house.

Simply Vietnamese’s storefront on 1 Highwood Avenue in Tenafly, NJ.

Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Simply Vietnamese has retained much of the same aesthetic charm as Saigon R. in Englewood. It’s almost as if the restaurant had been transplanted in place, but with a much more spacious interior.

The ever present Majordomo Joe Insinga reviews takeout orders before the evening crowd shuffles in.

Combination Vietnamese Sandwich (Banh Mi) with Lemongrass Coconut Tofu Soup in the background. A perfect lunch.

Lemongrass Coconut Tofu Soup, closeup

Pho noodle soup, one of KT’s signature dishes and hold-overs from her previous restaurant. While Simply Vietnamese will have a reduced/simplified menu from her other restaurant, Mo’Pho’, many of the old favorites will still find their way onto the menu.

Curry Coconut Shrimp served over Rice Noodles, one of the new menu items.

Here’s the curry shrimp being prepared as a takeout order. The restaurant is only a few days old but already its takeout business is booming.

Grilled Curry Chicken Skewers, a new menu item. These were similar to Indonesian and Thai-style Sate’ sticks, and we really liked them.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls (Cha Gio). KT’s version continues to be my absolute favorite.

Steamed Chicken Dumplings. Another customer favorite from the previous restaurant.

Lemongrass Chicken, another customer favorite. This one can be ordered with spicyness to taste. I like mine extra spicy, but this one was ordered by Rachel mild.

KT’s take on Pad Thai noodles have always been very popular, but I find it funny that people order them here because it isn’t really a Vietnamese dish. Still, I have to admit that they are very good.

Chili Garlic Shrimp, served with cabbage and bokchoy leaves. Now we’re talkin!

Ca Phe Sua Da, Vietnamese Coffee. This can be drank alone by itself or over ice.

If you get here after 7PM on a weekend, you might have to wait outside for a table. So much for a soft opening!

11 Responses to NJ Dining: Simply Vietnamese

  1. […] Note: While Mo’ Pho’ in Fort Lee remains open, it’s Englewood sister restaurant, Saigon R. closed on August 30, 2010 and re-opened as Simply Vietnamese in nearby Tenafly. For more information on Simply Vietnamese, cli… […]

  2. ameeta mehta says:

    We were over for dinner last night after reading your new post! Were terribly disappointed with the service and the food.
    I think the restaurant is not prepared for the huge numbers of patrons that show up every evening( thanks to you!) The staff were trying their best but the kitchen was extremely slow and by 7:30 they had already run out of several items on their menu! I hope they can work out the kinks in getting the dishes out in a timely manner!!

    • She’s definitely been unprepared for the volume of customers and she knows she needs an extra server and more efficient buswork. She opened on a Jewish holiday expecting to be slow so she could get used to the new kitchen and from the day the place opened it has been mobbed. They definitely have service issues to work out and they know about it. Considering that the restaurant isn’t even a week old I’m surprised its performing as well as it is. Give it a couple of weeks and then go back, its likely to undergo a bunch of menu and service changes.

  3. […] Retail restaurant spaces are all about the cycle of birth, life, death, and then rebirth, especially in these challenging economic times. Recently, one of my favorite restaurants in Englewood, Saigon R., closed its doors after almost 7 years in business and moved to Tenafly, re-opening as Simply Vietnamese. […]

  4. Glenn says:

    Went for lunch last Saturday with two friends of mine — A lot of the items shown here were not on the menu possibly due to the fact it was lunch time?

    Anyways I ordered the Pho Noodle soup w jerk beef — The beef had a ton of flavor, however there did not seem to be much meat it was mostly if not all noodle, and I’m not too found of the Anise spice — It’s just not my thing.

    I also ordered the Spicy Pad Thai Noodles w/ chicken which was delicious… I would go again just for this.

    • Pho isn’t supposed to have a ton of meat in it, it’s mostly the broth and noodles you’re supposed to enjoy. As to the flavor, KT’s Pho broth is very intense, and she does use quite a bit of anise in it, which makes it very authentic.

  5. […] Off the Broiler Share and Enjoy: […]

  6. Bart says:

    Can you possibly please post the new menu here?

  7. Gene H says:

    Thanks for the review! Went to lunch about a month ago with the wife. I had Spring Roll Bun, she had the coconut curry noodles. I also carried out Chicken BanhMi one night. Everything was great, and I’m just thrilled that SV is right here in my own town! Now if somebody would just open a Korean Taco joint in town…

    Jersey Gene

  8. cookylady says:

    My daughter and I go to SV at least twice a month for dinner and yes they take reservations. Our favorites are the special butternut squash dumplings in coconut broth, the mango salad, and coconut curry shrimp. Quarters are tight but manageable but I understand that they are expanding into space next door which should make the seating more comfortable.

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