Ever find yourself confused by the endless menus offered at most Chinese restaurants? After reviewing nearly 150 ways to glaze chicken, ever surrender and stick with the usual? Sonny Tran, owner of Saigon Grill, understands. "No one has the time to go through pages of choices. We want customers to know that we have a simple menu; we focus on the quality of the ingredients and the consistency of the products," he says. Just a select set of appetizers, a few soups and a marginal amount of entrees keeps the doors rotating at this little dragon in Forest Glen.
Paying homage to Tran's birthplace, the Chinese/Vietnamese plates welcome area dwellers on a patch of Elston where factories and city garages merge with two-flats and bungalows. Some of Saigon's fans stream in from as far as Wilmette, already familiar with Tran's spreads (he owns a dry cleaners on Devon and usually cooks for customers during Chinese New Year).
At first glance, the plywood storefront baptized in a bold coat of lava red seems too easy. Inside, however, sea-grass paint mellows and artwork invites visitors into South Asian life, be it a busy river market or an adventure through a misty jungle along a rope-tied treetop bridge. One resident lost her breath stepping inside for the first time since the space transformed from a dreary fish shop. "Wow! The place looks much more cleaner, neater, brighter and happier," she said.
As for the menu, many assume egg rolls can't get any more exciting, a yawn really. Here, Tran ditches the veined shrimp and mushy nonsense other places prize, instead stuffing golden-pillow rolls with marinated pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and shredded cabbage. This version almost assumes an empanada style, and who doesn't love empanadas? Also, shoot for the Vietnamese spring rolls. They look strange (as see-through food often does), but taste phenomenal and come stuffed with jumbo shrimp. And the meals remain familiar; just a few different ways chicken and beef can be glazed (I opted for the spicy governor's chicken) to Singapore noodles and authentic Vietnamese staples.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: David-Anthony Gonzalez