I have one of those little square signs in the kitchen with the changeable letters, and I’ve been using it to count my days in quarantine. It’s quirky and fun, in the same way notches on a jail cell wall are quirky and fun. Easter Sunday was Day 28. This was also the day I dialed up takeout from Duc’s Restaurant for the first time.
Speaking of quirky and fun, imagine relaxing on your back deck one Saturday afternoon with a beer in your hand and the sun warming your face. Now, imagine that same back deck being covered in snow the very next day. Quirky and fun, right? This is a reality Minnesotans are used to by now, and that’s good because it happened again Easter weekend.
I looked out the window at about 9:30 that Easter morning, and I already knew what I wanted for lunch.
A story in the December 2018 issue of Woodbury Magazine tells the story of Duc’s Restaurant owner Duke Kim, who grew up in Vietnam before fleeing the war’s aftermath with his mother in 1978. His family’s move to the US was sponsored by Oakdale-based Guardian Angels Catholic Church, and his first restaurant job in the Twin Cities was at Forepaugh’s. He opened Duc’s in 1996, on the corner of Tamarack and Radio, where it stands today. If you have time, the entire story is a great read.
Duc’s was recently in the news, for more good reasons. A story on WCCO featured a cycle of giving that began when Kim offered a free meal to a family of first responders shortly after COVID-19 reached Minnesota. That family paid, story goes, and asked that it be passed on to another family. Kim did that, but the next family did the same thing. Now, the restaurant is donating $500 in gift cards every week. You can see the whole story here.
One of the best tricks I played on myself was bringing my laptop to Duc’s with the intention of working around my food. This was back when we ate in restaurants (which already feels ancient). I would set up my laptop on one side of a booth, and convince myself I could eat and work. Computer over here; food over here. Easy!
I would order a big bowl of soup, but then ask for the containers of chili oil and hoisin sauce, and maybe order the pot stickers, or maybe a couple of egg rolls, or maybe both. I would end up with an array of glassware and plates that nearly covered the table. I don’t know if I’ve ever even powered on my laptop at Duc’s.
The first four auto-fill entries when I search “soup cure” on Google are “soup cure cold,” “soup cure hangover”, “soup cure cough”, and “soup cure flu.”
Duc’s Restaurant serves chicken wanton soup, vegetable soup, hot and sour soup, egg noodle soups, rice stick soups, and phở. The beef and meatball phở practically ordered itself Easter morning. It was joined by spicy chicken wings, fried rice, chicken with vegetables, and wantons. This is what happens when a day already synonymous with overeating meets a snowstorm during a quarantine.
Order phở to go from Duc’s Restaurant and you’ll see that some assembly is required: in a plastic container, tender tokens of meatball float in a clearish broth; in a Styrofoam box, a few basil leaves, thin beef slices, and a scatter of onion slices hide a hefty mound of rice stick noodles; sprouts come in their own separate container; a little plastic cup holds chili oil and hoisin sauce.
I worked the noodles apart, loaded everything into a big salad bowl, added some hot sauce, and stirred. I try to strike a balance between having enough hot sauce to make me whistle a “Whew!” now and then, while still enjoying the mellowing spice profile of the broth. You’ll be pleased when you eat this, whether you strike that balance or not. Even if you’re watching the snow fall and it appears to be coming down with the force of a hard rain, even if you see flakes that look as big as confetti strips out there, you’ll be pleased by this phở. I sure was.
The chicken wings come in a little white box, and they’re pretty good wings – they were fried almost perfectly, bites weren’t laborious, and those wings did not want for chili sauce. An order of six wings came with enough sauce for 12. I upturned the chicken wing box, thrust its contents onto a plate, and absolutely crushed those wings – one, two, three, four, five, six, clear! I spilled the leftover sauce into the soup, and whistled a little “Whew!”
Have you ever felt cheated before by a chicken and vegetable dish that seemed sorely lacking in protein? That doesn’t seem to be an issue at Duc’s. The fried rice was good, too. Duc’s Restaurant also serves Chinese and Vietnamese chow mein, and lo mein. There are chicken, beef, and shrimp entrees aplenty; sweet and sour pork; traditional Vietnamese rice dishes; and rice noodle salads.
Appetizers are all under $10; main dishes range between $10-14. You can find links to their menus on their website. Five of the six items under “Duc’s Favorites” have the little warning flame next to them. I like that.