Pho-nominal Vietnamese cafes right around the corner

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Food and Austin go hand in hand, but in a city where food is everywhere, where does one find the real deal?

Everyone wants to be the friend who knows the coolest new spot in town, but sometimes the older places go overlooked. As businesses have opened and closed shop throughout the years, one small shop in North Austin has kept the truth under wraps.

For a hefty price, South Austinites can delve into the world of French Vietnamese food at the well-known and swanky Elizabeth Street Cafe. It is not a bad restaurant, and it can be perfect for an intimate date night.

But what if I’m a broke college student who wants good Vietnamese food? Well, let me tell you about Tȃm Vietnamese Deli and Cafe. In a rather unsuspecting business park off of far North Lamar (past 183), it’s an oasis of Vietnamese authenticism.

For people that know about Tȃm, it’s unarguably an Austin staple. Yet somehow it has dodged much of the attention that other heavy hitters within the Austin scene have attracted.

This may be due to its lackluster appearance. Tȃm sports linoleum floors and fluorescent lighting. It’s a stark contrast to Elizabeth Street’s suave mood lighting, candles on the tables and waitresses decked out in custom-made floral dresses, each slightly different from the next.

Yet when put side by side, the food matches up. Elizabeth Street has great banh mi, vermicelli and pho. It is really good, but forking over 10 bucks for a sandwich or 15 for a bowl of soup is a little much.

At Tȃm, the food is much cheaper: about five dollars for a bahn mi and under 10 for pho. On top of that, there are many more options.

Authenticity is a difficult thing to judge or compare. Tȃm Vietnamese Deli is owned and operated by Tam Bui and Tran Ngoc, two Vietnamese sisters. They don’t think of their food as Vietnamese, but instead just food.

I’m in no way trying to knock Elizabeth Street Cafe. After all, they have alcohol while Tȃm only has sake cocktails and beer.

This can be a huge factor in determining what you want out of your night. If it’s Valentine’s Day, go with Elizabeth Street.

On the other hand, if you want authentic, delicious and cheap Vietnamese food in a casual environment, meet my friend Tȃm.