In my ongoing quest for delicious, cheap eats in Austin, Tam Deli has remained a constant favorite. It’s nowhere near where I live, it closes earlier than I’d like, and it’s nothing special inside. Yet it’s clean, friendly, has plenty of parking, and I can’t live without it. When the longtime owners sold it recently, many of us panicked.
Tam Deli's been sold. Everything is going black and it's hard to breathe.
— MadBetty (@MadBettyATX) June 10, 2016
Like me, countless Austinites had a special bond with the aging family who ran the place. Once when I was eating lunch alone I witnessed Nick refilling water glasses to a chatty table of college kids next to me. He quietly said, “say when” as he tipped the pitcher and he let the water overflow onto the table when no one stopped talking to say “when.” Everyone laughed as he mopped up the water and I can recount plenty of my own personal stories of Nick’s teasing. Thousands of little moments like that are what made Tam Deli feel like home. But also, the food. The Vietnamese staples done well and priced so reasonably.
When I heard that the same kitchen staff would remain in place under the new ownership, my fears at losing a beloved favorite subsided. A group of us stopped by to order our usual dishes and make sure all was right with the world.
The bánh mì is what usually gets me to Tam Deli as they make my favorite version in Austin. (I’ve previously documented a bánh mì showdown of Austin’s most notorious sandwiches, so check it out if you missed it.) It’s a short little guy who’s stuffed to the gills, and I always opt to add a fried egg.
Pictured up top is the vermicelli with grilled pork and egg roll, with springy noodles and loaded with fresh sprouts and vegetables. Like most the dishes we ordered that day, it tasted like it always did and we all felt relieved and happy.
The Banh Xeo is another regular favorite. On this day it was a little burnt, but normally the crisp crepe filled with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts is delicate perfection. Another dish that was a little different on this visit was the Banh Tom, crispy fritters made from yams and shrimp. They were tasty as ever, but the yams were cut differently. They were more like fries than the shapeless lumps I’d had in the past.
The service under the new owners was fast and friendly, if a little shy. Over time we’ll make new memories with them and have our own little private jokes, or at least exchange nods of recognition as we drink Vietnamese coffees and order the same dishes time and again.
What are your favorite dishes at Tam Deli? Leave me a comment and tell me what else I need to order.