Midtown's dining scene suffered a loss on Nov. 9, 2012 when Vietnamese restaurant Thien An closed its doors to make way for the development of the Superblock project. Although the owners initially promised to reopen in six months, a series of delays pushed it back. Thankfully, our collective wait for the restaurant's return came to an end on Sunday when it finally reopened in its new home on San Jacinto.
If the size of the crowd is any indication, lots of people are happy about this development. The restaurant was already more than half full at 11:30 a.m. on Monday when I met a friend for lunch. By the time we were finished an hour later, a line had formed as people stood waiting for tables.
The new location is much larger than the old one; gone are the cramped, too-close together tables in favor of an expanded floor plan with more seating.
Although it's hard to judge after one meal, Thien An seems to be back and better than ever. The new location is much larger than the old one; gone are the cramped, too-close together tables in favor of an expanded floor plan with more seating. Parking is easier, too, thanks to a larger lot. The design, such as it is, is still pretty minimal, but atmosphere has never been part of Thien An's appeal.
Whatever the new location lacks in decor, it more than makes up for in well-executed food. We ordered pho ($6.50 for a small bowl), spring rolls ($3) and the signature banh xeo ($7.25), a savory rice flour pancake that's stuffed with shrimp, pork and vegetables. Everything matched our memories in terms of flavors, particularly the banh xeo. The batter is pretty bland, but it serves as a wonderfully crunchy delivery mechanism for both its fillings and the pickled vegetables provided as accompaniments. Wrapped in lettuce and dipped in fish sauce, the pancake would make a satisfying meal on its own.
We skipped the highly regarded banh mi this visit, but I'll be back soon to try them and the various rice bowls, which will be easier thanks to new evening hours (the restaurant is open until 9 p.m. during the week). Maybe even for another lunch this week. That's how great it is to have Thien An back.