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.
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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!