Rice Paper's Pricey Vietnamese Food Could Use a Touch of Soul

Rice Paper is unquestionably stylish: a renovated small home with exposed brick walls amid a gray and white color palette, miniature chandeliers, and lacquered-wood tables and chairs that fill the main room and enclosed porch and spill onto a patio where the sounds of Seventh Street traffic mix with lively conversation.

And if you're in this midtown neighborhood and willing to sacrifice the more authentic and wallet-friendly dishes found in fluorescent-lit, no-frills Phoenix Vietnamese favorites like Pho Than and Da Vang, then spending a few hours steeped in Rice Paper's chic scene, nibbling on semi-satisfying fare alongside a cold Sing Ha or glass of cucumber-infused water, shouldn't be a problem. Besides, you'll be joining other like-minded diners who pack the place on a regular basis.

San Diego sisters Lan and Hue Tran brought Rice Paper to the Valley this summer, the name a nod to its selection of nearly 15 made-to-order varieties of rolls wrapped in moistened rice paper. In addition to the rolls, the restaurant's "modern Vietnamese" offerings — think approachable versus avant-garde — include starters, salads, sandwiches, pho, and, after 4 p.m., entrees.

The stylish Rice Paper's "modern Vietnamese" offerings aren't out to compete with the bare-bones Vietnamese eateries in the Valley.
Jackie Mercandetti
The stylish Rice Paper's "modern Vietnamese" offerings aren't out to compete with the bare-bones Vietnamese eateries in the Valley.

Location Info

Map

Rice Paper

2221 N. 7th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85006

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

Rice Paper
2221 North Seventh Street
602-252-3326
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays

Spicy Asian spring roll: $4.50
Banh mi: $8
Saigon salad: $10
Shaking Beef: $15

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Given the restaurant's name, Rice Paper's dizzying selection of signature spring rolls would be a good place to start. Although not cheap (ranging from $3.50 to $4.75), they arrive nearly the size of small burritos, with two or three orders easily making a light meal. As a whole, most are acceptable, with flavors elevated by the addition of miso ginger, peanut hoisin, and Asian pesto sauces. But some are better than others: The Spicy Asian, with fresh jalapeños, sriracha, and Asian sausage, packs a punch; the Traditional, stuffed with pork and poached shrimp, fares better than its fanciful friend the Spider, which is filled with tempura soft-shell crab, barely there mangos, and avocado. And the vegetarian tempura, with crunchy asparagus, can take the place of my ho-hum Surf 'n' Turf anytime.

If rolls of spring aren't your thing, a small platter of crispy wings in a light fish sauce or plate of crispy shrimp tossed with a spicy aioli may satisfy, and they have the extra benefit of being share-worthy.

And for those who have never experienced the fresh and lively taste of a Vietnamese noodle salad or the comforting and satisfying depths of flavor from a steaming bowl of pho, two of the country's staples, Rice Paper's versions will be adequate but disappointing to those who have. The Saigon Salad (bun goi), with rice vermicelli, lettuce, sprouts, cucumbers, mint, shallots, and peanuts in a Vietnamese vinaigrette dressing is fine, best ordered with grilled pork, but is missing the kick that comes from additional fragrant herbs and the Vietnamese dipping sauce, nuoc cham.

The soul of pho is the broth. But its flavor in the Combination (dac biet) at Rice Paper, with sliced steak, Vietnamese meatballs, brisket, and scarce tendons and tripe, is dull and lacks meaty richness. Along with a side plate of scant and wilted greens, you may find yourself adding dollops of sauces in an attempt to cover up culinary shortcomings.

Thanks to the French, who introduced baguettes to Vietnam and combined them with various local ingredients, we have the popular Vietnamese sandwich bánh mì, famous for being relatively cheap. Rice Paper's bánh mì come with a somewhat shocking $8 price tag, which, for some, may not be justified by the fact that this sandwich is bigger than usual and served with fries or a salad. Mine, the braised pork, certainly was tasty — with cucumbers, pickled carrots and daikon, shallots, cilantro, jalapeños, and homemade mayo on fresh, crispy-crust baguette — and made for a textural and multi-flavored affair. Was it worth $8? Probably not.

Entrees, served after 4 p.m., include classic Vietnamese comfort dishes. The standout is the Shaking Beef (bo luc lac), the translation describing the tossing of the dish's beef back and forth in a wok after it's been seared. Served up sizzling, the cubed filet mignon was tender and marinated in a satisfying sauce of soy and garlic. Of the two hot pot offerings, the caramelized salmon was woefully undercooked, and the law of diminishing returns easily applied to the braised pork and quail eggs hot pot — once the tiny eggs were gone, the pork wasn't flavorful enough to stand on its own.

Service at Rice Paper can be sketchy, varying between glacier-pace slow — with dirty dishes sitting on the table — to meals coming out too quickly and busers clearing plates (and $9 cocktails) not yet finished.

The stylish Rice Paper isn't out to compete with the bare-bones Vietnamese favorites in the Valley, but given its simply acceptable fare, I'd rather slurp my pho under fluorescent lights than chandeliers any day.

 
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10 comments
paula
paula

Laura like I said you should never be a food critic, go to SF, CA, NY and see the prices and what the food is like when you know your shit. The economy is not doing well and you seem to put small restaurants down. My family and I love this place and if people can't afford to eat at this place then go to other Vietnamese restaurants where there is no service or bartenders or don't even have nice linens than I say go for it, but I am a regular here and do live in this neighborhood and love this place. Go there and see why they are really busy

Adriana Brown
Adriana Brown

I actually like this place. I've been there a couple of times, it's right down the street from my house. I do have to admit, the service is a bit slow some times but the owner is very friendly and even bought me and my friend a drink one day. They now have a patio so that's awesome as well. I like it!

Houng Thanh
Houng Thanh

This is another hub for CenPho hipsters. Avoid if you want to taste real Vietnamese food.

Just a Thought
Just a Thought

CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP! This seems to be Laura's mantra these days. Judging from the amount of praises she sings of all the "wallet friendly" joints, and fast food stops (yea 5 Guys, yea Chipotle and the like). If "ranging from $3.50 to $4.75" is expensive then the purse strings must be pulled really really tight at the NewTimes.... I'd suggest a new gig that affords you the opportunity to enjoy a meal without first being put off by the cost thus spoiling ever bite thereafter.

solarama
solarama

I really want to try this place, and may still sometime, but with Pho Than being off the light rail, and delicious at under 5 bucks, they have my heart. I too am guilty of comparing similar places (those that serve Vietnamese food), but don't feel it's wrong-if your pho is 8 bucks it had better be phenomenal to compete with what's already out there, in my book.

Hanoi-ed By Soulless Reviewer
Hanoi-ed By Soulless Reviewer

Wow, it sure sounds like the reviewer started with a premise but then had a hard time backing it up. The end result is a wishy-washy review of a place that she liked but just not as much as the "more-authentic"-BECAUSE-they're-"wallet-friendly" Vietnamese places that Rice Paper "isn't out to compete with". (Simply because the cost is more akin to a pho cart on the sidewalk in Hanoi does not mean it is more authentic.)

Funny thing is, my first impression of Rice Paper's menu (lo, those few weeks ago) was the same as the reviewer's - over-priced. But, the size of the sandwich, the flavors of the Fircecracker Shrimp (and other dishes), and the friendliness of the owners and staff changed that impression and won me over by my 2nd visit. The central theme of the review is based on comparing Rice Paper to the non-competitiors instead of to the more relevant comps. (Nearby Coronado Cafe, Barrio Cafe, and other sit-downs are more comparable.)

I like Ms. Hahnefeld's reviews. Even on those rare instances where I've disagreed with her. But, this is one of the first times I've seen from her a review that came off so poorly.

--Paul

Krazybill
Krazybill

Exactly. High priced food that's a little below Da Vang's and Pho Than's. But it keeps the scenesters from polluting those two great places,

Pissing on your price quote
Pissing on your price quote

The review comment you quoted spoke in relationship to competitive pricing and value, pal, and in all fairness, Ms. H did mention "almost burrito-sized" rolls which aren't the norm in this food genre. So, suck it.

 
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