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Cheap Eats

Vietnamese, Cantonese meet in Chinatown

New Dong Khanh’s shredded chicken salad, made with rice vermicelli, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, bean sprouts, mint, and basil.

Wendy Maeda/Globe staff

New Dong Khanh’s shredded chicken salad, made with rice vermicelli, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, bean sprouts, mint, and basil.

Several weeks ago in this section, in a story on iced coffee, the cold brew at New Dong Khanh was featured with half a dozen other chilled glasses of joe. The Vietnamese coffee at New Dong Khanh is brewed individually and mixed with plenty of sweetened condensed milk and ice cubes. Intriguing. But what was even more so is a Vietnamese restaurant we didn’t know about.

The “new” in New Dong Khanh refers to the place renovated four years ago and open for almost three decades. There’s a bubble tea bar in the front, which also serves frozen yogurt (more on that later). It’s co-owned by Tammy Luu and her husband, Tung Nguyen, and their three children work with them, Cassidy, 36, Leon, 34, and Joseph, 25.

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This being summer, we skip the big bowls of steaming pho (though others around us have not) and go straight for the bun, the delectable salads with rice vermicelli, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, bean sprouts, mint, and basil. Grilled shrimp bun ($7) with its sweetened, vinegary sauce offers plump curls of seafood. Grilled beef bun ($6.75) has odd-looking meat, which seems to be pressed or shaved, but it tastes quite good.

Ground shrimp wrapped around sugar cane ($7) are plump, golden morsels on a bed of rice noodles, the crisp outsides revealing delicious, shrimpy bites. Summer rolls ($3.25) have tender skins but the pork and shrimp promised on the menu is hardly present. Plenty of vermicelli and bean sprouts, however. A big half-moon of golden Vietnamese crepe is also laden with bean sprouts and little meat.

My friend, a Chinese cooking expert, looks at the menu and some signs on the walls and tells me that there’s a Cantonese influence here. So we order chow foon with beef and bean sprouts ($7.25) and it’s an outstanding dish of wide rice noodles in a dark soy-tasting sauce with tender strips of meat and plenty of crunchy sprouts. Joseph Nguyen tells me his mother is of Chinese ancestry, hence these dishes: Chinese broccoli ($6.95) is refreshingly green, crisp, and bright in an oyster sauce. Lo mein with shrimp and vegetables ($7.25) has thin golden noodles, broccoli, onion, carrots, and canned baby corn. Everyone at the table has a taste, pronounces it ordinary. and the dish is pushed aside.

Chow foon with beef.

Wendy Maeda/Globe staff

Chow foon with beef.

The famous caramelized, spicy fish ($7.95) arrives spluttering in a stoneware pot blackened from years of use. A very dark sauce surrounds pieces of fish, which are both hot and sweet. We have no idea that an order of tofu, pork, and watercress ($8.95) is a soup, but the waiter brings us bowls first, then the tureen. The broth is a little bland, enhanced immeasurably with sriracha. Tofu and pork are tender, long sprigs of watercress deliciously crunchy but impossible to eat.

After dinner one night, we wander to the front of the restaurant to the bubble tea bar for frozen yogurt, toppings for which we’ve chosen off a menu the waiter gives us. None of the toppings are available, the server tells us, shaking his head at each one we order. It turns out they have cookies and cream. We watch him open a package of cookies, crush them one by one, and scatter them on the frozen yogurt.

Well, it tasted fine. And we liked the mix of Vietnamese and Cantonese specialties. Even if we did get soup when we thought it was a stir-fry.

Sheryl Julian can be reached at julian@globe.com.
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