431 Cambridge St. Allston; (617) 254-3373 Well off the beaten path of Allston’s Vietnamese restaurant area, this cozy hole-in-the-wall was known as Express Cuisine when Mineheap’s Boston first came out. Now owned by different members of the same family, it’s even more popular, thanks to super food, a wider menu than most such places, and ridiculously low prices including weekday lunch specials from a mere $3!
You must start off with the obligatory spring rolls though it’s no chore. $1.95 gets you a pair of big, crispy-fried rolls and a tangy dipping sauce. Or, choose from over half a dozen tasty soups and stews, like Sour Fisherman Soup ($2.95), a hot-and-sour broth with fish, shrimp and pineapple.
The rest of the menu features several dishes each of chicken, shellfish, beef, pork, and tofu entrees. Mine recommends chicken with ginger and onion ($5.75), fried with a bit of zing; and lemon grass tofu ($4.75). Only a few seafood dishes top $6, like Seafood Delight ($6.45), with plenty of shrimp, squid, scallops, and fish balls prepared in oyster sauce.
The specialty of the house, banh xeo, is a crisp pancake rolled up with chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts, scallions (and, seemingly, whatever else the chef can find) all for $4.95. It’s quite a trick if you can eat this with chopsticks.
No liquor is served (you may bring your own, of course). The place has only nine tables; try to get there early for dinner, especially on weekends, as no reservations are taken. Service is friendly, and the mood is quiet and relaxed. Open every day but Sunday, from 11:30 A.M. to 10 P.M.