My Lan Restaurant’s broth is some of the best in the city. Photo by Velton Hayworth.

My Lan Restaurant, 4015 E Belknap St, FW. 817-222-1471. 9am-9pm Thu-Tue. Closed Wednesday. All major credit cards accepted.

Hole-in-the-wall hangouts like My Lan, set in a dodgy strip mall in the northeast corner of Fort Worth near Haltom City, are usually either gross greasy spoons or hidden gemstones. My Lan was a total treasure chest. The restaurant’s bright, fresh Southeast Asian cuisine has earned a loyal following since it opened in the late ’90s. I stepped inside and was immediately enveloped in a happy, bustling energy: servers carrying steaming bowls of soup, chefs laughing from the back kitchen, and many diners chatting in their native Vietnamese. People packed the place on a recent weekday lunch, and almost everyone was Asian – a promising sign. My guest and I grabbed one of the only two open tables.

My Lan’s menu is gawk-worthy, with 109 dishes, not including drinks and desserts. The Boba Thai Tea, a mash-up of spicy orange cream and Sonic-style nugget ice, was both a refreshing and thrilling palate cleanser to start our meal.

BAM (300 x 250 px)

Plump shrimp and chicken squeezed together inside the scratch-made spring rolls, but the real star of the dish was the dipping sauce. The vivid mix of peanuts, garlic, fish sauce, and lime juice stimulated every taste zone on my tongue: sweet, salty, sour, savory, and spicy. Deep multifaceted flavors and aromas are the hallmarks of Vietnamese cuisine, and the kitchen hit the nuances with that appetizer.

At My Lan, we tried the chicken pho, and the broth was the best that I have ever had. From the tangy first sip, its deep, complex flavors captivated the palate with a deft balance of potent spices and piquant fish sauce. The harmonious taste lingered long after I had stopped saying “mmm.” My guest drained her bowl to the bottom.

Bean curd skin with shrimp may not have a pretty name, but it more than makes up for it in your mouth. It’s one of the five roll-your-own appetizers at the top of the menu that arrive alongside vermicelli noodles, rice paper sheets, and a flashy garden of lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, bean sprouts, mint, lemongrass, and Thai basil. The accompanying bowl of hot water isn’t for your fingertips but rather for soaking the round rice paper until it becomes pliable and ready to roll. I loaded all of the ingredients together with the slices of the bean curd skin and shrimp patty and dunked the roll deep into the nuoc cham – a tangy, fish sauce-based umami bomb that I could drink on its own.

Our taste buds traveled to Korea for the barbecue ribs, three slim pieces of beef cut lengthwise across the bones. A smoky-sweet vibrancy permeated the well-marinated steaks. Unfortunately, so did some gristle. Eating around this and the rib bones proved challenging, yet I did so because the flavor was so worth the labor.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Three Flavor Bean Pudding, a parfait-like confection topped with ice. I dug my spoon through the layers: crunchy green strips of agar (jelly), sweet kidney beans, mushy mung bean paste, and coconut cream. While trying to decide if I liked it or not, I devoured the entire thing.

Service was quick if a bit scattered, and English was limited. Our dishes were delivered by several different people at random times – just as soon as they were ready to eat. It’s the exact same way in Southeast Asia, where you never wait on everyone at the table to get their food before you dig in. The prices are fantastic and servings huge. There’s no alcohol on the menu, but you can BYOB.

It wasn’t until I rolled out of the restaurant that I noticed its meh-inducing decor and complete lack of style. But when the food is this tasty, you don’t need a fancy facade. I left excited about my new find, like I’d stumbled upon a gem that I couldn’t wait to share with my friends.

If you’ve never traveled to Vietnam, a trip to Haltom City should appease your appetite for adventure.

My Lan Restaurant

Bean curd skin w/shrimp $9

Spring rolls $3.25

Chicken rice noodle soup $7

Korean barbecue ribs w/fried rice $10

Sautéed rice noodles w/bean curd skin, shrimp,
and shrimp paste $8.75

Three flavor bean pudding $3