Renton Bistro takes Vietnamese cuisine to another level

Try something new at this downtown Renton spot.

Recently, I tried a local restaurant that I had only heard about, but had driven by many times. After trying Renton Bistro, I understand why it is such an important culinary institution for this community.

People in Renton and the greater Puget Sound area are blessed to have abundant access to different kinds of Vietnamese cuisine — a vibrant food culture that often uses fresh herbs and aromatics as flawlessly executed techniques to develop texture and complex tangy and umami flavors.

In my experience growing up in the Puget Sound region, I often enjoyed Vietnamese food at hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop shops that specialize in one kind of food, such as a pho shop, or a bánh mì deli. I am embarrassed to admit that I had never been to a restaurant such as Renton Bistro, which offered a full menu and a variety of different traditional Vietnamese dishes.

At first glance at the menu, I was immediately overwhelmed at the plethora of dishes I had never heard of, nor tried. I was excited, to say the least.

I sat down at a window-side table in the restaurant, which looked to be in a house, and felt similarly comfy, with inviting natural light and earthy colored walls and décor. I went around lunch time when the restaurant teemed with families, friends and co-workers who seemed to find comfort and familiarity with the space and ambiance of the restaurant and the variety of dishes that were pumped out of the kitchen.

After reading the menu and developing a game plan to try a few different things, I decided to order Goi Cuon Chao Tom (pork sausage salad fresh rolls), Com Ga Siu Siu (a chicken rice pot of sorts), and Banh Xeo (a Vietnamese-style crepe).

The pork sausage salad rolls were tasty, to say the least. They had a tender pork sausage with pickled daikon and carrot that added a complimentary tanginess as well as what seemed to be a fried crispy bit of egg roll that offered an awesome crunch that surprised me. The roll also had fresh herbs and bean sprouts that added a nice aroma, taste and texture.

The Com Ga Siu Siu came out in a hot porcelain bowl. The rice was described as being cooked in chicken broth and fresh coconut juice, topped with golden crispy chicken. The chicken was both tender and deliciously crispy and the dish came with a ginger lemongrass fish sauce, which was sweet, tangy, aromatic, and a perfect complement to the dish.

The Vietnamese Crepe, or Banh Xeo, was admittedly something I had tried before, and I had been dreaming about it ever since. The Banh Xeo at Renton Bistro did not disappoint. It comes out on a platter, almost entirely covered by a golden, fluffy looking omelet-shaped crepe, served next to a bed of herbs and lettuce. The crepe itself is a light and crispy egg batter, made with pork, shrimp and plenty of bean sprouts for texture. I was told that the lettuce is intended to be used as a wrap to roll a bit of the crepe with the herbs into. The dish came with a tangy, clear fish sauce with chili and herbs.

On my way out of the restaurant, someone working in the kitchen came out and encouraged me to try other dishes on their menu next time I came in, and I am very much looking forward to doing so.