Location: 106, 1111 – 6 Avenue SW
Firstly, I’d like to just point out that this is a Vietnamese restaurant in downtown. I’m aware that there is an East Indian restaurant also called Tamarind in the Panorama area (which is excellent), but this is not that. I’ve been to the Tamarind in Panorama, but never written a review because I’ve only ever ordered it on Skip-the-Dishes and I reserve my reviews for actual sit down meals in restaurants.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can move on the thing that makes this place unlike any other Vietnamese restaurant I’ve been to. I’ve been to my fair share of Vietnamese restaurants in my life, but I’ve never been to a vegetarian/vegan one. I simply googled “vegetarian restaurants downtown” and this one popped up. This turned out to be a great place to come to with Julia.
As they didn’t have a website, I had to rely on perusing the pictures of the menus posted on zomato. From the pictures online, my first impression wasn’t great. The menu was printed on regular paper stapled together. To me that didn’t really scream a restaurant that was successful. Yes, I’m aware how judgy that sounds, but you’ll be relieved to know that this restaurant was able to change my opinion with how amazing the food was. I don’t say this to be rude or ignorant, but I never expected vegetarian/vegan food to flavourful and close to the real thing. Perhaps it’s my past exposures to vegetarian/vegan food have been poor representations of what it is. Either way, I really enjoyed this place.
We started with two appetizers: spring rolls and paradise rolls. The spring rolls were thinner than I was used to, but that didn’t make it any less delicious. They were fried to perfection and didn’t leave extensive oily residue on my fingers. The rolls were filled with tofu, bean thread noodles (this was actually just mung bean noodles), mung bean, taro root and onion. The combination of ingredients made for a very “meaty” filling, despite not containing any meat at all. The thing I was most curious about was how they would imitate the fish sauce (nuoc mam). Their version was what they called a lime vinaigrette. I, honestly, could not tell the difference! The paradise rolls, also typically called salad rolls were filled with bean thread noodles (which was actually vermicelli), tofu, taro root, roasted ground rice, fresh lettuce and basil. This was also served with the lime vinaigrette dipping sauce. Of the two, I enjoyed the spring rolls more because I love crunchy food and the way that the ingredients intermingled and tasted on my palate were a perfect balance.
For our mains, I ordered the Tamarind House Special Noodle Soup which is mock beef and Vietnamese “ham” (cha lua), beancurd sleeves, vegetables, rice noodles, served with bean sprouts, Vietnamese (Thai) basil, cilantro and jalapeno. Julia ordered the Laksa which was assorted fresh veggies, fried tofu, lemongrass, turmeric, galangal tofu, and soy bean paste in a rich coconut broth. Though not listed on the menu, the laksa comes with noodles too.
When our orders came out, I was impressed. They both looked exactly like their non-vegetarian/vegan counterparts…well except for the fact that there was cauliflower in my pho and that wasn’t something I was used to seeing. The broths were both very well developed and again, I couldn’t tell the difference with the pho broth. The laksa broth, on the other hand, felt like it was a little bit thinner than what I expected of a laksa, but they did a great job, regardless. While they did do an excellent job with replacing meat with alternatives, having had actual beef and Vietnamese ham, the flavours of those were not quite as good. It may have been because of it was a product that was bought rather than made in house, but I felt like those things were a bit of a miss.
Best part though. No MSG in anything!
The restaurant itself looks very worn down and old. It’s also quite small and hard to get around. I have some issues with the cleanliness of the place as well. Service was good though. As it was family run, from what I could see there were only 2-3 employees and they were extremely efficient. Food was a lot better than I had expected and catching me off guard like this is always a good sign.
While they have a fair selection of items on their menu, I’m not really sure that everything on there will appeal to me time and time again. This restaurant is more of a place that I would come to once in a while. That said, I would still come back and I rate this place 3/5.