An update of this review can be found at okgourmet.com .
Dao's Tai Pan's446 N. Wilmot Rd.
When I visited a Chinese market in Tucson the employees recommended about three Chinese restaurants in town that served good quality and authentic Chinese food. It seems to be a different story with Vietnamese food, however, with several restaurants that have been recommended both by local residents and by reviews on the Internet. One of the ones of which I had heard good things was Dao's Tai Pan's in the eastern portion of the city (most other Vietnamese restaurants were located closer to downtown and the University).
Dao's seems to get a lot of its lunch crowd from the neighboring hospital and medical center. While I know firsthand that not all medical personnel are particularly health conscious when they go to lunch, a growing number are choosing light and healthy Asian food for a midday meal. Dao's is open for both lunch and dinner, but lunch is when its location seems to make it particularly popular with nearby businesses for takeout or quick meals before returning to work.
The decor of Dao's is similar to the style I have come to know from Vietnamese restaurants in other cities where tables are rather small and the emphasis is on being able to serve large numbers of people during rush times. I actually got more of a feeling of being in Vietnam than usual with decorations around the restaurant and trees outside, it is just that I would not describe the tables as spacious. Patrons are not paying for a fine dining experience but I would describe the restaurant as comfortable with good service. It seemed to be spotless clean with enough light coming in from outside that anything out of order would be noticeable.
I have found some high end Vietnamese restaurants on the west coast with food selection that is more extensive than Dao's, but outside of this group Dao's has one of the largest menus. The food at Dao's falls into the categories of salads, soups, noodle dishes, rice, and hot pots. Chinese food is available for lunch, but the dinner menu is strictly Vietnamese. A large selection of boba teas is available, and it looks as if they know what they are doing.
Although almost all dinners fall within the budget range on my price scale, I think my normal meal would include extras that would increase the cost to the moderate range. The boba tea would surely raise the cost, but in the summer I would think few people would want to order the more economical hot tea.
Spring Rolls are another item that I consider almost a necessity with Vietnamese food. I tried the vegetarian version with fried tofu and vegetables wrapped in a clear colored rice sheet. Most Vietnamese restaurants do not get this appetizer wrong, so there is not a lot of difference between them. At Dao's, though, I particularly liked the dipping sauce that was fresh and home made. It seemed to be high on peanut content, which is common in foods from Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
The Bean Curd in Clay Pot is probably the most expensive vegetarian dish the restaurant serves, costing $7.99 just for this dish alone. To properly judge the restaurant, though, (and to have a good lunch) I wanted to order the best thing I could find. This dish differed from others I have tried by having more subtle flavors, but it was in no way less satisfying. The freshness of the dish made it very good, regardless of how strong the spices were. The clay pot dish came with fried tofu, a few carrots and onions, and a sweet and spicy sauce at the bottom. The contents of the pot are normally poured over rice and eaten with vegetables. I will have to say that it looked rather plain but tasted very good. I do not know if others would derive as much enjoyment out of a vegetarian dish as I do, since several clay pots are available with meat, but it is not often I find a tofu dish that provides as much satisfaction as this one.
The meat dishes are also very good at Dao's, such as the Rice Vemicelli with Grilled Shrimp and Pork that I tried. This was the standard Vietnamese noodle bowl (but served on a plate) with rice noodles, vegetables, and cilantro leaves with fish sauce on the side to pour over the plate as desired. Like the clay pot, I found the flavors to be somewhat understated compared to the usual Vietnamese food I eat, but I liked everything about the plate including the less strong spices. The meat and vegetables were so fresh they were good on their own regardless of the spices used.
The hot tea was very good, and the selection of boba teas looks very impressive although I did not try them.
I don't know if Dao's is the best Vietnamese restaurant in Tucson, but I was certainly very impressed with it. When you factor in the cost I think it is one of the better Asian restaurants in the city for the money. I have heard that there are other restaurants in Tucson that might have better pho, but I saw quite a few people eating it at Dao's.
For me one of the big issues with pho is finding one without MSG. Dao's uses MSG in some of the dishes, but was able to omit it from the clay pot tofu. The restaurant does not use it in the vermicelli dishes, and I do not know about the pho. The food I had did not cause any MSG after effects, so I was very happy with it. I love Vietnamese food but it is not often that I find a place where everything was as good as at Dao's.
Hours: Open Daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Smoking: No Smoking
Most Recent Visit
Nov. 8, 2007
Number of Visits: 1
Vermicelli, Spring Rolls
Bean Curd in Clay Pot:
Vermicelli with Shrimp and Pork: