Rua Vang (125 Ossington, at Argyle, 416-531-1601) Complete meals for $15, including all taxes, tip and a Vietnamese shake. Average mains $6.50. Open Wednesday-Monday 10 am to 10 pm, closed Tuesdays. Licensed. Access: one step at the door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Rua Vang's takeout menu boldly claims that its beef noodle soup is famous, so I'm ready to check it out.
I pick a seat where I can peek at the action in the kitchen, where elegantly dressed women hack up onions with a cleaver using a freezer as their work table.
Chicken and Chinese mushroom in egg noodle soup ($6), a sparklingly clear broth brimming with slivers of chicken breast, spongy earthy mushrooms and crisp raw onions, is nourishment in a bowl. Vegetarian vermicelli ("Yes, vegetarian. Little chicken, little pork," my server says) with three mystery spring rolls ($5.50) needs more fresh herbs.
Marinated catfish in a clay pot ($9) comes in a metal vessel, but the two deliciously juicy steaks are enveloped in an intense soy-sauce-and-chili reduction.
Finally, the "famous" beef soup. We opt for well-done brisket, tendon and tripe in noodle soup ($4.50/small). Each component melts in your mouth, not an easy feat with tripe. It comes with crisp bean sprouts and whole fragrant sprigs of mint fresh enough to have been plucked from the ground that morning.
I can't leave before having a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk ($2.50). It arrives sans ritual in water glasses instead of individual filters perched atop cups and saucers.
There's nothing like a bittersweet ending.