The Ultra-Fresh Appetizer in Phoenix That's Made for Springtime — Or Any Other Season

This appetizer is a west-side classic.
This appetizer is a west-side classic. Jacob Tyler Dunn
Welcome to The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.

26: Spring Rolls at Da Vang

Da Vang is one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in Phoenix, and it remains one of the most beloved.

The restaurant, sandwiched in between Indian School and Camelback roads on 19th Avenue, is located in a small, aging strip mall that's easy to miss if you're not vigilant.

The spartan and brightly lit dining room tends to always be crowded, especially during lunch, and the extensive menu delivers what you might call classic Vietnamese soul cooking: a dozen or so varieties of pho, broken rice dishes, vermicelli served with savory meats, hot pots, bánh mì sandwiches, and all kinds of sweet puddings for dessert.

If you weren't lucky enough to be raised on Vietnamese cooking from birth, then Da Vang might be the place in Phoenix where you first tasted pho, or felt your pulse quicken after your first tall, milky glass of extra-strong Vietnamese iced coffee. And maybe it was the first place in town where you experienced the joy of biting into ultra-fresh Vietnamese spring rolls.

Da Vang offers three spring-roll varieties: a classic shrimp and pork, one with barbecue pork, and a
nem nuong variety stuffed with pork meatballs and vermicelli. An order of the shrimp and pork variety is probably the most essential and popular option, though, especially on hot weather days, where their cool crispness offer a small counterpoint to spring and summer temperatures.

The spring rolls at Da Vang are hefty, shaped like fat, oversized cigars, and an order constitutes a small meal unto itself. They have a bracing herbal freshness that comes from the leaves of fresh mint hugging the large shrimp and hunks of savory pork. The rice paper wrapper is neither rubbery or slippery, and some peanut sauce on the side draws out even more flavor. All that fresh flavor encased within dewy rice paper, and accessibly priced at about $3 for an order of two — it almost seems too good to be true. The spring rolls at Da Vang are still a pleasant revelation, even after all these years.

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The dining room at Da Vang in Phoenix is loose, friendly, and very casual.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
The Essentials so far:
50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore.
49: "Dragon" Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
48: Dizzy Fig Empanada at Republica Empanada.
47: Linguine Carbonara at Avanti.
46: The Food Court at Mercado de los Cielos.
45: Chicken Feta Salad at George’s Kitchen.
44: Spinach & Cheese Chimi Burro at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant.
43: Dinner at Rustler's Rooste.
42: Gyro Omelet at Mel's Diner.
41: Zipps Wings at Zipps Sports Grill.
40: Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa.
39: Asian Nachos at Moto.
38: Olive Oil Tasting at Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill.
37: Baby Back Ribs at Don & Charlie's.
36: Limoncello at Cibo.
35: Chili Salt Chicken Wings at Asian Café Express.
34: Smoked Prime Rib at Texaz.
33: Steak Salad at Feeney's.
32: Tasting Menu at Kai Restaurant.
31: Toffee Banofi Sundae at Sweet Republic.
30: Big Jim at Welcome Diner.
29: Sonoran Hot Dog at El Caprichoso.
28: Sashimi at Nobuo at Teeter House.
27: Oysters at Casey Moore's Oyster House.
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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.

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