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A Taste of Tradition and Innovation at Lang Van in Charlotte, The Pioneer Vietnamese Restaurant

Updated: Apr 26

Founded 30 years ago at the corner of Eastway & Shamrock Drives in east Charlotte, Lang Van is the longest-operating Vietnamese restaurant in the Queen City.  Owner Dan Nguyen first came to Charlotte in 1999 from Saigon to be reunited with her husband, Tuyen Tran. They first met in Vietnam, fell in love and got married.  Then Tuyen headed to the US to begin building a future for the couple.   But they could not afford for Dan to come as well.   It ultimately took 5 years to join her husband in Charlotte.  Upon arriving in the States, Dan lived in her car for three months until she was hired by the owner of Lang Van at the time.  The owner, No Duong, mentored Dan and taught her  all aspects of running the restaurant.  In 2009,  when Duong decided to leave Charlotte, Dan bought the restaurant from him. 


At last count, there are approximately 40 Vietnamese restaurants in the Charlotte area, according to Yelp.   But despite a lot of competition today, Lang Van has a loyal following, an 4.5+ (out of 5) rating on Yelp, Tripadvisor and Google.  Reasonably priced, the menu can be a bit daunting with 130+ items from which to choose.  They’ve got all of the favorites like Gỏi cuốn (fresh summer rolls), Pho (a soup-like dish that is actually pronounced “Phah”), 17 different Rice Vermicelli bowls, and Bánh xèo, & several Cơm tấm dishes. Bánh xèo looks like an omelet. It is usually filled with a combination of shrimp, chicken, and/or pork along with some bean sprouts.  It comes with fresh herbs like mint and cilantro on the side along with some form of lettuce to wrap a portion of the pancake and some herbs.  You then dip that into some nước chấm sauce and enjoy. Cơm tấm means fractured rice and refers to the broken rice grains that are used in this dish which were originally damaged in the milling process.  The broken rice grains are commonly consumed in southeast Asia and is as nutritious as white rice.  


Mention com tay cam # 122 - only place in CLT with it. 


We have been to Lang Van a handful of times over the years.  There are several, such as Doan’s, Saigon Palace, and Vietnam Grill, which are located closer to us and are very good.  But Lang Van is unique in two ways. First and as mentioned above, it is the oldest-surviving Vietnamese restaurant in Charlotte.  We respect any restaurant in Charlotte which has been in business that long AND that continues to be packed each time we go.  Secondly, dining with Dan Nguyen is unique.  She’s incredibly personable and pays attention to the details as do her staff -many of whom are related to Dan.  But what really sets Dan apart is her knack for remembering her customer’s favorite dishes.  When we say customers, we are not referring just to those who come 2-3 times per week.  If you have been in her restaurant even a small handful of times, she’s likely to remember you.  We were eating there one time with our friends, Janet & Steve Heffner who go, at most, twice a year. Steve told us that, on his second visit to Lang Van, Nguyen recommended a dish that is not on the menu.  He loved it so that is what he gets each time despite not knowing the name of the dish.  He just shows up and, almost magically, Nguyen knows which dish to bring him.  On the night that the four of us were there, I was a bit skeptical that Nguyen would remember.  Steve said that it had been roughly a year since he had darkened the doors of Lang Van.  When taking our order, Steve asked Nguyen if she remembered what he gets each time that he comes.  She replied, “Yes.”  And sure enough, when our entrees arrived, she handed him the exact same dish. Unbelievable.  


Nguyen’s incredible ability to recall this information, for possibly a few hundred customers, is well-known amongst local foodies who like Vietnamese.  Coupled with her engaging personality as well as the attentiveness and efficiency of her staff, customers keep coming back. Several family members including her two sisters work there.  On both evenings that we went in the last 4 months, one a Saturday and the other a Sunday evening, the restaurant was packed.  They do not take reservations and there is no waitlist.  You just wait in line in the small lobby until it is your turn.  It’s not uncommon for the line to creep outside the front door.  


If you have never tried Vietnamese food but want to, Lang Van may be a good spot to choose.  Nguyen is skilled at helping newbies find the right dishes to try.  If you are already a fan of the cuisine, some of our recommendations would be the Chim Cút (menu item # 5) (fried crispy quail appetizer), the vermicelli bowls such as Bún Gà Nướng (#49) (marinated charbroiled chicken),  the Bánh Xèo (#10). Beth really likes the Chicken Lemongrass Curry (#136) served medium spicy.  The last time that we were there, I recently that Lang Van serves my favorite Vietnamese dish, Cơm Tay Cầm (#122), which I’ve not found at any other restaurant in Charlotte.  The dish is served in a clay pot where the chef adds dry or par-cooked rice to the pot first.  During the cooking process, the rice takes on some of the dishes’ liquid and sticks to the bottom of the pot.  Before seating, you are supposed to scrape the rice away from the pot and mix with the rest of the dish.  The rice has a somewhat hard but smoky, flavorful taste quite unlike rice would if it had been steamed first.   Lang Van’s version must be made with steamed rice at the bottom of the clay pot because the rice does not stick to the pot and does not have that slightly crunchy unique flavor of other places where I have had this dish.  But it was still quite good.



We love to hear from our readers when they have tried one of our Foodie Review restaurants.  So, if you venture out to Lang Van, let us know what you think!


Sources: 

“Lang Van's Dan Nguyen Is a Bright Light on Charlotte's Culinary Scene,” Creative Loafing, December 20, 2017.



Wikipedia

Google


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