Dining Out: Tan Tan creates vibrant dishes

Vancouver cafe-deli ensures its food is fresh, interesting

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Why: Tan Tan Cafe & Delicatessen provides authentic Vietnamese fare for dining in or on the go. The menu was revised in December with some new offerings, such as the Bo Luc Lac, which is a shaken beef salad, and a hot pot soup that comes with two kinds of soup and various accompaniments to mix in or combine at your discretion.

Atmosphere: The strip mall space is divided about equally between the deli and cafe dining. A wooden arbor separates the two areas, and the dining room is carpeted, whereas the deli is tiled. Dining room walls are painted a demure shade of pink accented by a maroon chair rail. Pendant lights with red, orange, and yellow shades supply tables with warm dining light, further distinguishing the dining room apart from the deli, along with various prints and a few plants.

What I tried: My dining companion and I ordered the Bo Luc Lac and the chicken noodle soup. We also had the hot Café Sua Nong, Vietnamese-style coffee, which is a favorite of mine.

Of the two dishes, the Bo Luc Lac was most impressive. The salad’s main ingredients are lettuce, tomatoes and onions. It’s then topped with cubes of sizzling beef, coated in a rich flavorful sauce, crushed peanuts and garnished with cilantro. The vegetables in the salad were fresh, and the meat provided a delicious and appetizing accompaniment which gave the dish the impression of a full meal.

The chicken noodle soup was large enough for three people to share. It consisted of rice noodles, quail eggs, generously sized pieces of chicken and green onions in a thin, sweet broth that tasted of classic poultry yet it had the added aroma and essence of something comparable to cinnamon. A plate of bean sprouts, a sprig of basil, a wedge of lime and three slices of jalapeno pepper were served alongside the soup. These were all as fresh as could be. Though some or all of these may be added to the soup, I preferred to eat the sprouts and basil separately and left the lime and peppers.

The coffee was perfect, as usual.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: From the vegetarian selections, the Bun Bi Chay sounded delicious. This dish consists of rice noodles served with an egg roll, seasoned tofu and fresh vegetables. Also, the Banh Mi Bi, a Vietnamese-style shredded pork sandwich, was intriguing, as was the Sinh To Bo, a fresh avocado smoothie.

Other observations: The waitress was friendly and helpful with the intricacies of how to eat menu selections for those who are not familiar with such things.

On my lunch visit, the floor detracted from the overall impression of the dining room because it was in need of vacuuming.

Cost: Appetizers are $3.95 to $10.95. Pho, noodle soups, rice vermicelli bowls, rice plates, Tan Tan favorite menu selections and vegetarian dishes start out at $5.75 and top out at $9.95. All the Vietnamese-style sandwiches are $3.50. Beverages are $2.50 to $3.95.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Telephone: 360-892-3400.

Where: 316 S.E. 123rd Ave., Suite A3, Vancouver.

Health score: Tan Tan Cafe received a score of 0 on Dec. 20. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.