While Thai food is known for giving Sydneysiders bang for their buck with its tamarind flavoured noodles and creamy coconut curries, diners have traditionally had to travel deep into suburban territory to find cheap, authentic Vietnamese restaurants. These are often nondescript places found on bustling streets in Cabramatta, Marrickville or Bankstown, where local supermarkets boast everything from salty dried anchovies to pandan leaves for flavouring desserts. Here, it's not unusual for time to feel paused for the groups of pensioners playing mah jong in the surrounding parks.
Tan Viet Noodle House
3/100 John Street, Cabramatta
Tan Viet Noodle House closes at 7pm everyday, right at the peak of dinner service, which is a bit odd considering the hoards of people who flock to the restaurant in search of the holy grail of crisp skinned chicken. From the early morning to late in the afternoon you'll find lines snaking down bustling John Street (Cabramatta's answer to George Street) from the door. Golden fried chicken skin is an experience in texture, which shatters with a bone-tingling crunch with every bite. Fried chicken is served with either noodles or tomato rice and fish sauce. We love submerging the chicken in a garlicky noodle broth with a quick dip into a pot of savoury fish sauce.
185 Marrickville Road, Marrickville
At Bau Truong you'll find a range of Vietnamese fare, from summer rolls stuffed with tiger prawns, to sugarcane prawn noodles, all at a decent price. Their signature dish is a pounded pork chop cooked in garlic, lemongrass and soy and served with 'broken rice' and fish sauce. The pork is the hero of the dish, cooked over hot coals and filled with smoky flavours from the char grill. Bau Truong also take pride in offering drinks that Vietnamese people love, from traditional Vietnamese coffees with rich condensed milk to creamy, thick avocado shakes.
27 Greenfield Parade, Bankstown
In Hanoi, street carts are propped up on corners, serving pots filled with pho to locals who sit on crates, balancing their steaming bowls on their knees. This rich beef broth with rice noodles, laced with a mixture of fresh mint, chilli and tender strips of fatty beef flank is perhaps Vietnam's most celebrated dish. It's all about efficiency at Pho Anh, with the canteen-style hall easily fitting 100 people, ensuring that you'll never have to wait for a seat nor the soup.
545 Crown Street, Surry Hills 60 Riley Street, Darlinghurst
If you can't quite face the pilgrimage into suburban territory, Red Lantern in Surry Hills and now a smaller outpost in Darlinghurst is somewhat of an inner-city institution for modern Vietnamese dining. The restaurant is busy during the week with casual first dates and businessmen in search for the perfectly cooked Banh Xeo, a coconut pancake stuffed with tiger prawns, chicken, bean sprouts and fried silver bream, topped with lime and fish sauce.