In this edition of Off the Beaten Turf, we feature a suburban destination that will make I-66 feel like a pathway straight to Vietnam.
For the past 40 years, Vietnamese immigrants have been turning what was once Plaza Seven Shopping Center, at 6751 Wilson Boulevard (map) into a little Saigon. Eden Center feels much more like an authentic Vietnam-ville than the area around the Verizon Center feels like a Chinatown. The Falls Church mall, where the interior and exterior are lined with storefronts, is expansive enough to consume you. Walk around for a few minutes, and soon your entire field of vision is packed with sights and smells that could easily be found on the southern end of a continent 8,000 miles away.
The mall consists of 120 stores, including restaurants, bakeries, jewelers and hair salons. The stores cater to a host of needs: you can find snacks, familiar dishes like banh mi and pho, exotic ingredients like frog and organ meat, karaoke bars, buckets of tofu, gift stores full of jade vases and beckoning cats, and even wedding cakes and engagement rings. The produce — sidewalk hawkers sometimes sit behind pyramids of fruit — is expectedly exotic, offering nubby, spiky things like durians and jackfruits.
There are a few different tactics newcomers can use when navigating on their first visit. Yelp and other websites can help you narrow down the options to perhaps one of the acclaimed Pho restaurants, like Pho Xe Lua, or a place with a wide-ranging menu, like Huong Viet or Rice Paper. Tyler Cowen, the economist whose recent book “An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies” discusses how to use economic strategies to find the tastiest restaurants, is an Eden Center expert. Check his dining blog for reviews of dishes and restaurants.
Consumers can also just go there and walk around, scanning for the store that boasts awards from local publications and is correspondingly buzzing with activity, or simply the one that smells the best. When UrbanTurf stopped by, Seaside Crab House was filled with a mixed clientele drinking beer and wrangling crab legs with tools and bibs. Huong Viet, though too-brightly lit and a bit chilly, offered heaping piles of tasty meat and generous portions of sauces and fixings, and a hole-in-the-wall, three-table vegetarian restaurant in the interior portion had tubs of eggplant and various soy-based products catering to non-meat eaters.
While other major cities boast significant international enclaves, DC proper is lacking in that department. Eden Center offers residents a pretty convenient way to feel the international flavor that city living should entail.