The path to Chinatown is well-trodden by chowhounds seeking Asian authenticity at popular prices. But it can be maddening to watch Asian ex-pats enjoy delicacies that clearly aren’t listed on your English-language menu, which at Chinese places is often limited to Americanized junk like General Gau’s chicken. I can obviate this issue by pointing to some neighbor’s tempting-looking dish, but if I love it, how do I reorder it next time? Thus it’s a relief to sit down at Xinh Xinh, a Vietnamese/Chinese place with an English-language menu that doesn’t dumb down the bill of fare.
Vietnamese standbys include beef noodle soup ($5.95–$7.25) with a superior broth, and light but satisfying vermicelli plates ($6.50–$8.95) you can make less healthy with toppings such as grilled beef and fried spring rolls. It’s fun to get the steamed vermicelli wraps ($8.50–$9.50) — a plate of roll-your-own fresh spring rolls — to see if you can rival your college-era cigarette-rolling technique: it takes practice to dip dried rice-paper wrappers in hot water just long enough not to oversoften them, then roll up your fresh herbs, angel-hair rice noodles, cucumber, chopped peanuts, and protein fillings (grilled shrimp paste, beef, pork, shrimp, meatballs, or tofu) so the result doesn’t look like a pregnant guppy. But even your malformed ones will be delicious.
Xinh Xinh also offers some rarely seen Vietnamese standout dishes, such as the specialty French-bread dip plate ($6.50), a beef stew variant with chunks of fatty flank, fresh cilantro, and a pair of warm dinner rolls for soaking up the rich broth. (The chicken version, with a more pronounced yellow-curry flavor, is also wonderful.) Vietnamese hot pots are actually caramelized catfish, salmon, shrimp, or pork ($9.50–$9.95) in a cast-iron vessel, mostly unadorned but for the sweet, slightly fiery sauce (not in the steamboat presentation the name might suggest). Chinese-leaning dishes include roast duck noodle ($7.50), egg/wheat noodles and choy in a clear broth with a very crisply barbecued quarter duck.
The outstanding roster of cold drinks features iced coffee with condensed milk ($2.50) and superb fresh-fruit shakes ($3), including jackfruit and mango. With patient servers, a spare and bright little room, and no condescending to sorry monolingual Americans, Xinh Xinh delivers my favorite Vietnamese-restaurant experience in town.
Xinh Xinh Restaurant, located at 7 Beach Street, in Boston, is open daily, from 10:30 am to 10 pm. Call 617.422.0501.