Husband-and-wife team Tuan Truong and Lien Pham knew they would have to do something a little different to stand out amid the hundreds of Asian restaurants in Broward. So their East West Cafe covers a lot of territory, with stops in Thailand, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Korea and the couple’s native Vietnam.
What also helps separate the 50-seat restaurant from the pack is that the sauces and vegetables (from Whole Foods) are organic, MSG isn’t used, and you can order dishes like pho, a traditional Vietnamese soup, with tofu. About the only major Asian item noticeably missing at East West is sushi, but one of Broward’s best Japanese restaurants, Marumi Sushi, is in the same Plantation plaza.
Open nearly seven months, East West looks like a basic storefront, but inside it’s cheery and colorful, with brick walls, abstract art and red paper decorations you might find in a Chinese restaurant. Servers are charming and helpful, and keep the meal well-paced, with water glasses always full.
Pham admits she doesn’t know much about wine, so “I tell people they can bring their own,” she says, with no corkage fee. You will find sake, plum wine and a few Asian beers including China’s Tsingtao and Vietnam’s 33 (the name, we’ve read, has something to do with the original bottle size).
If you’re overwhelmed by the extensive menu, pictures of several dishes are posted at the booths in the center of the restaurant. One of our favorites is a starter, the Saigon crepe, with turmeric giving the rice flour shell its bright yellow color. It’s filled with sliced chicken, shrimp, yellow mung beans, onions, Chinese mushrooms and lots of bean sprouts. Cut off a bite and wrap it in a lettuce leaf.
Satay brings two skewers of juicy, grilled chicken served with sweet-and-sour cucumber and curry sauces. Fried wontons are fine, but the fried egg rolls are a better splurge, packed with lean pork, shredded jicama and other veggies. Other starters are steamed or pan-fried pot stickers and fresh spring rolls.
A generous bowl of pho (just $8) brings thin beef slices (our choice) and rice noodles in a broth heady with anise, cilantro and lime. Bean sprouts, basil leaves, a slice of lime and fresh chile peppers come on the side — add to your heart’s content.
We liked the Malaysian noodles, a flavorful dish of pan-fried noodles spiked with garlic, shallots, Chinese sausage, bean sprouts, broccoli and soy sauce and topped with a fried egg.
Sumptuous red curry is a little thicker than typical Thai versions, made with a house-made red chile paste and creamy coconut milk. And fragrant garlic bean sauce elevates a simple stir fry with veggies, chicken and rice.
Fans of Korean cuisine will find its famed barbecue beef and the noodle dish chap che.
East West’s dessert list is limited but intriguing. Sticky mango rice is rendered green by pandan leaves that look like little feather dusters. Adventurous eaters may want to try the robustly flavored black rice pudding, tender from long cooking, served with coconut milk, peanuts and a dusting of sesame seeds.
Vietnamese dishes dominate the menu at East West, yet globe trotters are bound to find the cafe a trip worth taking.
If you go
Place: East West Cafe
Address: 8257 W. Sunrise Blvd., Plantation
Rating:★ ★ ★ (Very Good)
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4-9:30 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Appetizers $1.75-$7.50, soups and salads $8-$11.50, entrees $9.50-$18, desserts $2.50-$4.50
FYI: Beer and wine, sake; no corkage fee. AX, DS, MC, VS