It's OK to be skeptical of a Vietnamese restaurant that sells $25 plates of lobster or $6 goi cuon. Why, with so many Vietnamese eateries cooking whole platters of food for $6 and $8, a raised eyebrow and a tight hand on the wallet are only natural.
But Pasteur's Vietnamese cooking—not to say its creature comforts, mood and décor —are well worth the bump.
If you do want to eat inexpensively at this Edgewater draw, you can.
A bowl of pho goes for $5.50 and is a meal in itself: a large bowl of beef broth tinged with aromatics such as cinnamon carries an abundance of vegetables, thin rice noodles and felt-thin slices of beef round. Even more vegetables and herbs arrive to the side and you may add as you wish.
The $6 goi cuon are larger than standard issue, and the quality of the shrimp, fresh greenery and rice noodles is high. If you're looking for something different but very Vietnamese, try the chao tom ($9), finely minced shrimp bound together with egg and wrapped around a stick of sugar cane, then grilled. You eat it like a shrimp popsicle and you can even suck a tad on the stick. Yuuummy.
Bo tai chanh ($9.50) is the restaurant's turn on traditional Thai beef salad, mixing slices of grilled beef and shallots with a 'vinaigrette' of lime juice, fish sauce, mint and chiles. The nice thing about Asian beef salad is the way every bite brings another flavor to the tongue.
All dishes are listed by their Vietnamese names, but there are ample descriptions in English.
A whole lobster ($25.50) comes cut up and sautéed with minced shrimp, garlic lots) and scallions, everything wet with a sweet-tangy sauce. The meat is cooked just right, so that it hits the fork tender and sweet.
Another traditional Asian dish is whole grilled fish (price varies), in Pasteur's case steamed sweet bass or deep-fried red snapper. The kitchen throws an enormous variety of flavoring elements at the snapper—sweet peppers, scallions, garlic, chile heat, soy—but the fun's in plucking at these fish bit by bit with your chopsticks.
A combination of vegetables and tofu in a broth of vegetable stock and coconut milk ($14.50) comes to the table in an Asian hot pot, the whole 'soup' boiling hot. It puts to the lie the idea that vegetarian dishes are boring.
Pasteur is a jumping place most weekend nights, but a wait in the small, bamboo-accented bar won't be tedious. It won't be sober, either, for the bartenders here aren't shy with their pours.
I cannot wait to tell you more about Café 28, a small, tucked-away cantina cheek by jowl to the Ravenswood El—and I will once I devour some more of its delicious food. Café 28 serves a menu heavy on Cuban eats (the joint's name comes from a Cuban good luck number) such as ropa vieja—long braised beef—and an abundance of plantains.
With most main dishes, you'll be amazed that so much flavor comes on just one plate: citrus in a sauce, say, or dustings of chile or the caramel from a pan's char. Something as mundane as pork roast bursts with tangy flavor, and the meat is as tender as a whisper.
The walls are exposed brick. The tables are topped in marble. The bar is small and inviting. The music jumps. And the service is like being waited on by friends.
Prices aren't at all bad for the amount of food one receives (suggestion: share an appetizer before heading to the capacious main plates). About the only downside to this great little place is that it doesn't take reservations. Table waits—especially on weekends—can be past one hour. Go early or late if you want to eat right away.
5525 N. Broadway
Vietnamese & French
Entrees from $14.50-$26,50
Dinner daily; lunch, Friday to Sunday
Noise: Conversationally correct
Smoking at bar
1800 W. Irving Park
Cuban and Mexican
Entrees from $8-$16
Dinner daily; lunch, Tuesday to Friday; brunch, Saturday and Sunday
Noise: Latin loud
Smoking at bar