A tasting tour of Vietnam at Yến’s Kitchen

Vermicelli crab tomato soup, a Monday special at Yen’s Kitchen.

A small, family-run eatery in a sprawling Lake Worth strip center transports diners halfway around the globe with a menu of flavorful Vietnamese street foods and beverages.


Yen’s Kitchen in Lake Worth is worth seeking out for a discovery tour of Vietnamese street cuisine.

Even if it means driving roughly 10 miles north to Lake Worth Road from Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. It sure beats traveling 9,126 miles from Delray to Vietnam, a trip that’ll cost you more than $1,600 one way and require a full day of travel time.

Yen’s is in a Lake Worth strip center.

Once at Yen’s Kitchen, open for little more than a year, you might feel you’ve traveled halfway around the globe. The restaurant, steps from the Movies at Lake Worth about a half mile east of Florida’s Turnpike, is a small place with an open kitchen. The dining room with small gray and black tables, bright red metal chairs — Yen’s seats 22 inside  – is filled with people speaking Vietnamese (Yen’s caters to the Vietnamese immigrant community in Lake Worth). On the walls are colorful paintings of street scenes framed by window shutters. Potted plants are everywhere, and shelves filled with Vietnamese specialties for take away split the kitchen from the dining room. There’s also covered outside dining with glimmering strings of white lights suspended from the overhang.

Traditionally, Vietnamese food is not as spicy as other South Asian cuisines, say Thai or Indian food. It’s all about balancing sweet and salty, cooling and warming, fresh flavors and fermented. Key to the flavors of Vietnamese cooking is Nước mắm, a salty, funky, fermented fish sauce, which is used to flavor marinades, soup broths, salad dressings, spring roll dips, and just about any Vietnamese dish.  Don’t worry, the food does not in any way taste fishy.

Street scenes on the walls.

Deciphering the lengthy menu at Yen’s can be overwhelming. (There are two menus, one in English, the other in Vietnamese.) But call over Manh Trac, the friendly Ho Chi Min City-born son of the restaurant’s namesake, Yen Nguyen, who can lend a hand.  He’s easy to spot with his brightly dyed high fade haircut, blonde during one of my visits and red on another.

Yen Nguyen learned to cook to support her family, operating a lunch stand in an industrial neighborhood in the city formerly called Saigon, selling steaming bowls of her homemade noodle soups to factory workers, according to restaurant’s website.  She picked up a following and later added a food cart at the local zoo, selling homemade Vietnamese street snacks to visiting families and, after having her own children, selling from her front porch. The family emigrated to the U.S. in 2003.

On Yen’s menu, you’ll find the most-popular Vietnamese food in the world, pho (pronounced fuh), French-influenced sandwiches known as banh mi, savory rice flour crepes, noodle dishes, and more. There’s also a diverse list of soft drinks, coffees and teas, among them incredibly refreshing homemade lime soda ($4.50) and ($4.50), calamondin iced tea, a sweetened beverage made with calamondin, a citrus fruit with sour and tangy juice that tastes like a cross between lemon and tangerine.

Yen’s pho.

Special banh mi.

Purple sweet potato custard bun.

Mixed crêpe.

Lime soda.

Calamondin iced tea.

The rich-tasting pho – I had mine with rare eye round steak and brisket—is served with hot (Siracha sauce) and sweet (hoisin sauce) condiments on the side along with sprigs of mint, a slice of lime and slices of jalapenos. Add them, if you wish to kick up the flavors.  I used just a tad of the two sauces so as not to overwhelm. Basic pho is $8.50 with meat upgrades extra.

On another visit, a Monday, I tried a special, vermicelli crab tomato soup —Bún Riêu & Canh Bún ($12.95), a pork-based, light red broth that’s slightly sweet and acidic and is loaded with vermicelli rice noodles, tomatoes, a crab paste/egg mixture that resembles stuffing, slices of sausage-like pork roll and pork bones with bits of fat and meat clinging to them.  On the side, accompanying the soup are small cups of tamarind paste (to add tartness, I was told) and shrimp paste, bean sprouts and greens. Spoonful after spoonful of the soup revealed layers of flavors.

The banh mi sandwich, which originated from the southern part of Vietnam, is generally a crisp, toasted baguette filled with a range of meats, pâté, cucumbers and other savory ingredients. Here, I tried the Yen’s special ($5.95), the baguette stuffed with red ham (seasoned pork ham caramelized in a red sauce), pork roll (a steamed pork sausage), pork floss (a dry, fluffy, finely shredded pork seasoned with soy sauce), pâté, cucumber, jalapeños, pickled daikon, shredded carrot, scallion, cilantro and mayonnaise. I noticed a hint of heat in the mélange of flavors and textures.

Mix crêpe ($9.95), called Bánh Xèo Đặc Biệt in Vietnamese, a savory, bright yellow crispy pancake filled with pork, shrimp and vegetables, needed a dip in the accompanying sauce for a bit of a flavor pickup.

A steamed sweet custard ube bun, made from purple sweet potatoes known as ube, served in plastic wrap, was enticingly pretty in a Facebook photo and on the display, but it tasted dry. Trach explained to me that Vietnamese sweets generally are just lightly sweetened.

Yen’s varied menu of delicious offerings, friendly service, the unhurried dining experience, and the Southeast Asian atmosphere, make it seem as if one has transported out of South Florida to Vietnam. It’s a trip worth taking.

Yen’s Kitchen

7364 Lake Worth Rd., Lake Worth FL, 33467

(561) 619-8255


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