Mot Hai Ba (or “My Hot Butt” as The Cheap Bastard likes to call it) opened last Tuesday in East Dallas, and despite my opinions about its name, I was pretty eager to try it out. Everything the Good 2 Go Taco girls, Colleen O’Hare and Jeana Johnson come up with, I love. They’ve got this easy breezy style that makes opening new restaurants look like a cinch. I don’t know how they do it, but they manage to come up with ideas that the Dallas dining scene needs, and then they execute their plan almost flawlessly. I wish I could say the same about Congress.
Mot Hai Ba is located inside this charming white-and-yellow brick building missing an exterior sign that says, “HEY! Eat here! There’s Vietnamese street food inside.” Or maybe there was one, and I’m just blind. Or, most likely, the sign hasn’t arrived yet. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter.
The interior is pretty dang awesome, and anyone who disagrees with me can go somewhere else to eat. I think the waiter told us there was Thai chili in the hot sauce as he placed it on our table, but my memory sucks, so I can’t say for sure. All I know is that I wanted to stick my whole hand in that hot sauce and lick it. It’s definitely not a dumbed-down version for wimps who cry over one jalapeño. The tables are kinda short, which makes short people like me feel great. But when I asked Matt Shelley, lunch partner and iPhone photo taker, if his daddy long legs felt okay, he said yes. The seating was comfortable for him, and he’s 6’1”. In fact, Matt couldn’t stop praising the sweet barrel-like seats and coconut tree chopsticks. (People are going to steal those, I just know it.) It might have had something to do with Jeana praising his Dowdy shirt and giving him a high five when we first walked in. She knows how to make people happy.
The lunch menu is limited to seven options, but I like that. Menus that read like the Bible make me want to whip out my yellow belt skills and karate chop someone. Matt had the chargrilled pork belly, pork meat ball, imperial roll, and vermicelli option for $9. His dish was head-banging awesome. I don’t think he spoke to me for a good five minutes because his mouth was full the entire time. Judy, our Vietnamese lunch buddy, wasn’t a huge fan of the imperial roll because it wasn’t traditional, she said. Usually, there’s more meat than vermicelli in the roll, but this one was entirely opposite. I have no idea what’s traditional or not, so I was quite happy with it. The skin was thin and crackly.
Judy had other things to say about the grilled pork banh mi she ordered, though. The banh mi was puffy and perfect, while the pork remained juicy in the middle, while crunchy and charred along the edges. All of us couldn’t get enough of it.
The only issue I had with the entire meal was my beef pho, which came with cilantro, Vietnamese basil, and beef slices. No bean sprouts. Twelve dollars for a bowl of really bland pho is sad. I always finish my food. I don’t think I’ve ever not finished a bowl of pho. I tried my best, but I only made it halfway through the bowl before I started scooping out the noodles and pouring Matt’s chargrilled pork belly sauce over them to give it some flavor. The lemony, fish sauce was so tangy and sweet and delicious at the same time, I could’ve just drank that stuff straight up. But I’m a lady. Sort of.
It’d be great to see more pho options on the menu besides beef, chicken, and vegetable. I have a serious soft spot for tendon and tripe.
[Update: This is what Jeana has to say in response. "Bowls and bowls and bowls of pho in Hanoi. Never saw a bean sprout or a bottle of hoisin. MHB is a "not changed for what people expect because they eat southern style pho in Dallas" Northern Vietnamese restaurant. Although I understand that people have gotten very used to rock sugar and Christmas pie spice overwhelming the broth that has been simmering for days leaving no real taste of the protein that started the whole thing, a simple recipe search for Hanoian pho would indicate that Northerners prefer to let the meat flavor be the star.
Squat down on a Hanoi sidewalk and have a bowl or 10, come back to Dallas and then compare."]