With growing Vietnamese options in Boise, Dong Khanh certainly has staying power. It's the kind of Asian restaurant that seems like it has been around forever. The kind of place that adheres closely to the post-Vietnam War standard for American Asian cuisine in which sauces are thick and sweet, soups are salty and thin, and dishes are named for generals and colors.
But it also offers a valid form of American comfort food. It's the kind of place where you might grow up eating on Saturday nights as a kid and then take your kids to eat there 20 years later and order the same thing. And at Dong Khanh, some of the dishes are pleasantly surprising, and the waitstaff, which appears to be thoroughly non-Asian, are surprisingly knowledgeable.
On a recent lunch date, my wife and I ordered a bun bo soup ($8.25) and bun bo xao lunch special ($7.50) that our waitress described as a "bowl of love."
The lettuce in Vietnamese food still surprises me, and on the bun bo xao it was thoroughly hidden beneath a big pile of noodles, spicy beef and chopped peanuts. You have to penetrate all the layers to get the full effect, the five senses of the dish: wet crunch, slurp, burn, chew and dry crunch. I'm sure there is a more poetic way Vietnamese chefs would put it.
Unfortunately, the soups at Dong do not achieve as multilayered an approach. The bun bo soup was clear and spicy, but a simple broth. The sliced beef was dry and the basil, chili peppers and lime were missing. Same for the pho ($8.25), which tasted like a basic beef broth and was missing some of the traditional fixings.
The goi at Dong ($7.95), a salad-like appetizer, achieves some of the complexity it should have, but the chicken was bland and the nuoc cham, a sweet vinegary fish sauce-based dressing was tasty but too sweet and not fishy enough. The house special, pan fried noodles ($9.95), had a unique, earthy flavor and plenty of meat and vegetables mixed in, but I'd shy away from any of the Chinese-influenced dishes on the menu from about No. 55 on down. We had the tofu with mixed vegetables ($8.50) and while it came with big chunks of tofu that are fun to cut with chopsticks, nothing really stood out.
Dong Khanh was a 19th century emperor of Vietnam who was propped up by the French in order to take away legitimacy from his brother, who headed up a revolt against the French, according to Wikipedia, at least. You never know the lineage that might connect Boise's Dong Khanh to Imperial Vietnam, but this town is ready for a revolution in Asian food. With some freshening up of the menu, Dong Khanh could step it up for the next generation of diners.
--Nathaniel Hoffman would be mad, too, if his brother became titular head of an occupied colonial regime, if he had a brother.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Dong Khanh.