Young and Hungry

The Latest Fusion: Latin-Vietnamese Menus in Wheaton

pho comida tipica

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.

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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.

samanthas in wheaton

Samantha's menu mixes Vietnamese, Latino, and American dishes

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Samantha's baked goods reflect their menu: banh mi baguettes and Mexican pastries

  • sharpie

    Where's the line between "fusion cuisine" and "confused, jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none food-court-in-one-space?"

  • Simon

    but is either restaurant any good?!?!?

  • Tim Carman

    Sharpie, you've practically defined a diner. But I will say this about Samantha's. It had both Latino and Asian cooks in the kitchen.

    Simon, I was in Wheaton eating at another restaurant. I plan to investigate these places more in the near future.

  • eva

    I don't know about actual melting of cuisines, but in SoCal, where I'm from, some of the best customers at pho restaurants in Little Saigon are Latino laborers, who love the cheap, filling bowls of noodles that include familiar condiments jalapenos and limes, and ones that come close (Thai basil/cilantro.)

  • Sweth

    Cajun Bangkok in Alexandria was doing this sort of thing 20 years ago.

  • Sara

    We tried Samantha's for the first time the other night for dinner, but we weren't that impressed. First, my boyfriend ordered the bahn mi, but was told they weren't serving it. Then, while he tried to figure out something else, I ordered chile rellenos, but was told they weren't serving that either. Eventually, we settled on pupusas and soft tacos, which were both ok, but it was kind of annoying that they were just not making a bunch of items on the menu.

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