The Latest Fusion: Latin-Vietnamese Menus in Wheaton
Maybe this trend has been around awhile and I've just overlooked it, but this weekend while I was tooling around Wheaton, I found not one but two restaurants that mix Latin and Vietnamese food.
Technically this isn't fusion fusion, in that these establishments aren't combining ingredients from the two cuisines into something unique. It's more like Pho Comida Tipica (part of the Internacional Mercado Latino) and Samantha's Diner & Bakery serve both cuisines side by side (or many cuisines side by side, since the Latin offerings tend to combine the plates of numerous countries). You'll find pho next to pupusas next to tacos next to banh mi next to tamales.
Samantha's breaks down the wall between ethnic cuisines
I guess it makes sense, given the ethnic melting pot that is Wheaton, where you can tour the world via the restaurants, from Peruvian chicken to Israeli falafel to Thai noodle soups to Scotch eggs. But for the most part, each cuisine has maintained a fairly high wall around itself, in part, I always assumed, to serve as a gathering spot for ex-pats.
But these two places break down the walls with authority. Samantha's, in particular, points its compass in half a dozen different directions. In addition to Vietnamese and a wide variety of Latin dishes, there is a menu of standard American plates like a hamburger with fries. In that sense, Samantha is the 21st century American diner, but substituting Vietnamese and Latin food for the Greek plates of the past.
This ethnic grafting reminds me of a story my bud, Robb Walsh, wrote in 2002 for the Houston Press, in which he noted how Vietnamese-Americans were embracing Cajun cuisine but not yet assimilating it into their own cooking. Some seven years later, I wrote about how one restaurant at the Eden Center was mixing Vietnamese and Cajun cuisines.
It makes me wonder what we'll see in Wheaton in 10 years.
Samantha's menu mixes Vietnamese, Latino, and American dishes
Samantha's baked goods reflect their menu: banh mi baguettes and Mexican pastries