The tiny, family-owned Vietnamese eatery Brodard Asian Express & Boba Tea looks as if it could be swallowed up any minute by the hectic retail space it inhabits on a busy section of Cooper Street in South Arlington. Inside, Brodard appears to have more front counter space than actual seating — the place is really designed for take-out. But there was nothing sloppy or fast-foodish about the vibrant, savory, delicately homemade lunch that a guest and I had there last Saturday afternoon. It was terrific, even memorable.
Brodard Asian Express might be a bit cramped inside, but its menu is surprisingly large and varied, with a changing roster of daily specials posted behind the counter. The menu offers sleek, authentic variations of the staples that U.S. lovers of Viet food have come to adore: soups, spring rolls, rice and noodle dishes, the baguette sandwiches known as banh mi, and grilled plates.
For appetizers, we tried two different spring rolls: the grilled pork and the roasted shrimp paste. Both were firm, thick feats of engineering the size of small bananas, wrapped in sticky rice paper. The smoky, salty, tender pork roll was stuffed with fresh green lettuce leaves and chopped vermicelli noodles, making it light and hearty at the same time. The shrimp paste roll contained a small sausage–shaped mound of processed shrimp that was sumptuously pâté-like, smooth and soft, surrounded by spiky cilantro, cool mint leaves, and slivers of pickled carrot and cucumber. Both the crustacean paste and the veggies asserted their flavors wonderfully.
Two other items, advertised as house specialties, were listed as appetizers but worked very well as main courses. The fried sweet potato and shrimp was a mix of spud strips and small, tender tail-on shrimp battered and deep-fried together into a steaming-hot, lightly and pleasantly greasy mash that tasted like an instant comfort food classic. The ban bot chien, or rice flour cake with egg, was a series of thin, deep-fried rice rectangles — similar in taste and texture to potato cakes — that were then stir-fried with a hearty coating of egg yolk and served with the aforementioned pickled carrot and cucumber slaw. Come to think of it, both dishes would’ve made a great breakfast.
Our entrées were uniformly stellar in freshness of ingredients, preparation, and presentation. The Vietnamese crepes with shrimp and pork were sheer heaven: thin, brown-edged, French-style golden cakes folded over a wonderful mass of small, plump shrimp, curly pieces of salty roasted pork, and grilled bean sprouts. The dish came with large bright palms of romaine lettuce for making your own little Viet-burritos.
In lieu of the pad Thai, we tried the house-made Brodard pasta: wide fettuccine-like pasta strips with the pleasing prickly kick of basil, stir-fried with lean white-meat chicken, crisp slices of bell pepper, and pungent, crisp green onion.
Just as marvelous was the grilled pork plate, with generous strips of lean pig singed wonderfully at the edges and, as a side, a house-made starch known as tomato rice — a moist mound of short, pale red grains that had the richness of a fresh tomato but none of the sweetness that often mars any tomato-infused dish.
The tomato rice was just one of the small but tasty revelations that Brodard Asian Express deserves to be famous for on the Arlington Viet food scene.
Brodard Asian Express & Boba Tea
5005 S Cooper St, Ste 159, Arlington. 817-472-6666. 11am-10pm Sun-Thu, 11am-11pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.