My wife and I are on a Vietnamese food kick. I have a co-worker from Vietnam, who has given us several recommendations in the International District: Tamarind Tree, Lemongrass, and (our undisputed favorite) Green Leaf. They are all excellent in their own way. Tamarind tree is a bit fancier and has excellent ambiance. Lemongrass serves home-style dishes in a small location in a strip mall, and Green Leaf is simply one of the best hole in the wall restaurants in the whole world--get there early or you will wait for hours for one of their scarce tables.
Try all of the above . . . but this blog is about Renton, and our little burg just graduated from the all-Pho-all-the-time Vietnamese that we've had for years, to a genuine Vietnamese dining experience. Lemon Leaf just opened in South Renton. They are too new to have a website or a phone book listing, but they are easy to find. Take 167 south to the 180th Ave S exit (the IKEA exit), and you will see a bright yellow sign straight ahead (across the street from the mega-plex movie theater). We saw said sign and went in after seeing Spider Man 3 (entertaining, but the least enjoyable of the three). The decor is beautiful. You can't tell from the outside, as it's just a strip mall, but the interior has a beautiful bar/dining area, including fire-side dining (if that's your thing) and some lovely tables by the front picture windows. The wait staff are all in vests and black tie, and I immediately felt underdressed.
They are clearly still getting their act together. We had to wait a few minutes to be seated because they ran out of menus (the resturaunt was only at 1/4 capacity!), and there was some confusion over where we would sit. We witnessed this confusion with every party that came in. Clearly the waitstaff is still figuring out how to run the place. My meal also came WAY before my wife's. Little things like that were annoying, but I'm sure they'll figure it out.
The menu is outstanding. It has all the best of Green Leaf and Tamarind Tree combined. With Bun (vermacelli noodles), crepes, and Pho, and many traditional dishes--even seven course beef! For an appetizer we had fresh spring rolls with Shrimp, which were great (reminicent of Green Leaf's) and for entrees wifey-pants got vegetarian Bun an I went exactly the other way, with Shake Shake Beef (chunks of Filet Mignon fried in garlic, onions, and spices). It was all really good. I think I would even say that it measures up nicely with the "classic" International District places that we love--ok, maybe not Green Leaf, but they're pretty close. Appetizers are $ 7-9, entrees are in the $10-$18 range and they have a full bar.
Great addition to Renton!