3019 Shamrock Drive

Owner: Dan Nguyen

The venerable restaurant’s menu features 139 dishes that express the diversity, freshness, and bright flavors of Vietnamese cuisine.

Lang Van restaurant at Eastway and Shamrock drives doesn’t look like much from the outside. It’s in a humble, boxy, single-story building that practically hides from the street.

Lang-Van-foodInside, though, the decor is tidy and warm, and owner Dan Nguyen (a woman, despite her first name) complements the interior with her own hospitality. This is a place that, for over 21 years, has built a regular clientele, and Nguyen knows—and hugs and serves—all of them .

Nguyen has a remarkable capacity for remembering regulars’ favorite dishes, said her young cousin, Anh Phan, who works at Lang Van along with several members of his family. (Nguyen speaks decent but incomplete English.)

“She tries to follow the tastes of the customer, so it’s kind of unique,” Phan said. “The first time you come here, you order from the menu. But the next time, you don’t need the menu.” Which is amazing, since the menu features 139 dishes. Vietnamese cuisine eschews the fat and oil common to other Asian cuisine common in the United States, preferring grilled meats, broth, noodles and fresh greens.

Lang Van, of course, serves pho, the best-known Vietnamese dish: beef and noodles with basil and bean sprouts in beef broth. You can also get the hu tien, rice noodle soup with herbs and spices with chicken, pork, squid, onion and ginger in chicken broth; and beef, chicken, shrimp or squid lemongrass curry.

Nguyen learned her craft as a young woman growing up near Saigon. Her husband, Tuyen Tran, had moved to Charlotte before meeting her, then met her in Vietnam, married her and waited for the U.S. government to approve her immigration papers. It took five years. Once she arrived in Charlotte, she worked at Lang Van, then another restaurant, before buying Lang Van in 2005.

On a recent weeknight, the place was busy and filled with the murmur of conversation at 8 p.m. More than one customer, sensing the presence of first-time Lang Van diners, expressed their love of the food and the place without even being asked.m “I love the customers here,” Nguyen said. “A lot of them love me.”

– Profile written by Greg Lacour