The Vietnamese Lantern, at Historic Harbor Landing (629 Seventh Avenue) in Two Harbors, is celebrating its first year under the husband-and- wife team of Minh Huynh and Lilly Bailey Pham, who have been streamlining the menu, while adding Vietnamese dishes to the Chinese-American fare.
Pham and Huynh are both from Vietnam. Pham earned a Food Sciences degree at the University of Saigon, and honed her skills as a caterer for traditional Vietnamese weddings. These extravagant affairs last for days, and are filled with lavish dishes.
The Lantern’s optics are admittedly lacking. The Historic Harbor Landing is a godforsaken waif of a building. We were the only patrons in the poorly lit and awkwardly designed interior, but a steady stream of phone calls and take-out visitors alluded to the food’s popularity. Besides, we were here for the Pho, and we weren’t prepared to back down over appearances.
The food does not disappoint. The steamed pot stickers, filled with pork and cabbage, and served with an hoisin sauce derivative, are outstanding. Light and fluffy, not watered-down messes, we found ourselves eagerly looking forward to our turn at the dish.
The service aspect gets a little sticky here. We were given no side plates, so we had to pass the main dish back and forth. Nevertheless, we were impressed with the quality of the preparation and ingredients.
After the pot stickers, we were treated to Pham’s delightfully light and crisp Vietnamese Eggrolls, hand-wrapped and freshly made, filled with vermicelli, bean threads, carrots, shallots, pork, and light seasoning, served with a sweet and sour dip.
Our first entrée was the Pho, a rice noodle soup, featuring thinly sliced steak, chicken, meatballs, or shrimp. While the proteins make a limited appearance, it’s well worth the $8.99. The broth has a subtle intensity, with ginger and scallops completing the ensemble. Fresh bean sprouts and lime are served on the side.
Hot peppers and fresh basil are also offered, but we felt we had already overburdened our inexperienced but eager young server, especially after asking for traditional pho spoons with which to sip the broth.
For our second entrée, we chose the Pad Thai, another rice noodle dish, stir-fried with herbs, eggs, fish sauce, shallots, garlic, and peanuts. The vegetarian version is wanting in heft, but certainly not in taste. I felt it was “somewhat” spicy, while my wife maintains it was “very” spicy, but we agreed it was delicious.
The Lantern’s menu denotes spicy dishes, but follows the unwritten rule that if you’re in a Northern Minnesota restaurant and you really like spicy food, you should ask for it extra spicy. That said, their sauces are all quite tasty.
On a subsequent visit, we ordered a few items from what constitutes the bulk of their menu—an ode to Chinese-American food, introduced by the previous owners and so beloved by local patrons that it was wisely kept on the menu. The sweet and sour shrimp, the General Tso’s chicken, and the Chinese Egg Rolls make it evident why the new owners have not hastened to overhaul the menu too much too quickly.
Yes, the lighting is poor, the service inexperienced, and there is an overall lack of ambience (e.g., no music). But don’t be fooled by appearances. The Vietnamese Lantern is well worth the drive to Two Harbors, especially as this dynamic food duo continues to expand the restaurant’s Vietnamese cuisine.