Ha Long Bay had us at “salty lemonade.”
The $3 icy drink was full of pulp and was reminiscent of a sweeter, but just as refreshing, Gatorade.
Helpful server, Ninh, explained that the drink is created by pickling lemons for a month in a “special juice.” Ha Long Bay also offers boba drinks, smoothies and bubble milk tea for $3.
For 15 years, Ha Long Bay has served hearty Vietnamese fare to countless Tucsonans. About five years ago, the restaurant moved to its current location, which is east of Sabino Canyon Road on Tanque Verde Road.
The restaurant seats a cozy 66 total in a combination of two- and four-seat tables. A deep-blue mural of water, faux foliage and bamboo accents decorate the room, and Vietnamese music fills the restaurant.
Like many Asian menus, Ha Long Bay’s features a cornucopia of appetizers, soups, entrees, and desserts. The portions are large. The service is great. And the menu is full of traditional Vietnamese dishes with a nod to U.S. tastes.
Ha Long Bay offers two “special ‘low carb’ dishes.” These include a grilled lemongrass chicken, pork, beef or shrimp served with steamed broccoli, celery and carrot ($8.99) and lettuce wraps with a choice of grilled lemongrass meat ($9.50).
We started our dinner with the Sailboat Shrimp ($6.99), which is essentially a fun way of saying “shrimp toast.” Like traditional shrimp toast, the pieces of finely chopped shrimp toast burst with flavor and sat on a bed of shredded cabbage with a side of savory peanut sauce.
It’s a shame to visit a Vietnamese restaurant and not try the pho, which is a rice noodle beef soup. We chose the Hue Spicy Beef Soup ($9.25), which arrived piping hot. The slices of rare beef cooked while sitting in the lemongrass-flavored soup. Adding the proffered sides of bean sprouts, cilantro, basil lime and jalapeños turned the soup into a spicy, filling meal.
Those who want a substantial meal should choose one of the six Com Tam dishes, or baby rice platters. The Com Tam Ha Long Bay ($9.99) was a moist charcoal-grilled lemongrass pork chop served with diamond shrimp, which are flaky phyllo-wrapped triangles that deliver a satisfying crunch, even after dipped it in a tangy fish sauce. Dishes each include salad, baby rice and steamed egg meatloaf. The “meatloaf” was topped with a layer of egg and yielded a medley of flavors, including a hint of vanilla.
The restaurant offers family dinners, which are for two or more people, cost $12.99 a person and have 10 choices. The dinners come with crispy rolls, steamed jasmine rice, wonton or rice noodle beef soup pho.
Asian beers for sale include Tiger ($3.50), Sapporo and Lucky Buddha ($4.50), and wine ($4.50 a glass, $15.95 a bottle) varieties include a choice of White Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.
Finish off the meal with the Fresh fried banana topped with honey dessert ($4.99) — four small bananas with a funnel-cake-like batter that’s slathered with a feathery light whipped cream.
Ha Long Bay is located at 7245 E. Tanque Verde Rd. Operating hours are 3 - 9 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Tuesday - Thursday, 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. Friday - Saturday, and noon - 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call (520) 571-1338 or visit halongbaymenu.com.