For fine Vietnamese food with a twist
by Marene Gustin
With some 9,000 restaurants in Houston, sometimes we forget about old favorites—particularly when new ones are popping up like bluebonnets in springtime.
Case in point: Mo Mong Vietnamese Restaurant. This urban oasis in Montrose, tucked into a strip center at the corner of Westheimer Road and Yoakum Boulevard, has been around since 1997. But with new neighbor El Real Tex-Mex drawing huge crowds, it’s easy to forget that right next door is a foodie gem.
So it’s high time to revisit Mo Mong—and that’s just what we did recently for a spectacular and extremely reasonably priced lunch.
The first thing you notice about Mo Mong is the charming space that was once the stage area of the old Tower Theater. A narrow building with a few tables and red-tiled bar downstairs, and a steep staircase leading up to the main dining room, the décor is trendy Asian industrial. A stacked box chandelier dominates the entrance, and modern paintings by local artists hug the walls. A charming bamboo-lined patio draws crowds on cool evenings.
But the real stars here are the food and drinks.
While the restaurant offers beer and a limited wine list, we started with a fresh and light Mo Mong Saketel Martini made with Ketel One, sake, and picked ginger. It turned out to be a refreshing summer sip.
Vietnamese cuisine is known for its healthy, fresh ingredients—from herbs and veggies to fish, chicken, pork, and beef—and Mo Mong doesn’t skimp on any of it. Lunch specials are under $10, a steal considering they come with the soup of the day (a delicious cabbage when we visited) and a small spring roll with a wonderful peanut sauce.
We chose the Polynesian Chicken and the Bo Luc Lac. The white-meat chicken was tender and tasty, sautéed with fresh apples and pineapples in sweet and sour sauce served with sticky rice. But the beef dish was even more delectable. Chunks of filet mignon marinated in spicy seasonings and red wine sautéed with garlic and hot jalapenos, served over a bed of iceberg lettuce with fresh tomato, onion, and cucumber slices.
Even though these are lunch portions, the plates are loaded with food. You definitely won’t head back to the office hungry.
The menu is fairly extensive, and there are several must-try dishes here for either lunch or dinner. The spring rolls are meals unto themselves, particularly the mango roll of lightly battered fried chicken and mango slices served with a mango dipping sauce, or the barbecued duck roll with vermicelli noodles, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, and bean sprouts, served with that wonderful peanut sauce.
Mo Mong gives a nod to Texas cuisine with the Vietnamese fajitas: beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp that you roll into rice paper with as much lettuce, cilantro, pickled carrots, and roasted peanuts as you want, and then dip into Vietnamese fish sauce.
And of course, there are noodle dishes. Vermicelli, rice, and egg noodle dishes flesh out the menu. There’s even Japanese udon (thick wheat flour) noodles stir-fried with shrimp, chicken, asparagus, and eggplant in sake soy sauce. And while it would be a shame to miss the meat dishes, there are plenty of vegetarian offerings as well.
For more than just food, swing by on Martini Wednesdays for $3 martinis, $2 frozen cosmos, a DJ, and plenty of people-watching. Even if you’re just there for the scene and the cocktails, you’ll be hard-pressed not to order some spring rolls.
There may be more than 200 Vietnamese restaurants in Houston, but for our money, Mo Mong is truly one of the best.
Mo Mong Restaurant
1201 Westheimer Rd., #B
713/524-5664 • www.mo-mong.com
Complimentary valet service
Marene Gustin is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.