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Chef Hoa Lai of Four Sisters
One by one, we’re running through the 50 restaurants that made the cut on this year’s Young & Hungry Dining Guide. If you have visited the day’s featured restaurant, let us know what you think. If you’re planning to visit for the first time, tell us about your meal when you return.
The members of the Lai family have understood one thing better than any other Vietnamese restaurateur: They’re not in Vietnam anymore. So while their institution’s initial success was based on its ability to appeal to transplanted Vietnamese at the Eden Center, the restaurant has shown an ability to adapt to its adopted country. I don’t mean to imply that chef Hoa Lai has sold out Vietnam’s cuisine to cater to the American palate, because he hasn’t. But the Lai family hails from South Vietnam, an area that has two distinct advantages in competing in the American marketplace: It prefers sweet-and-sour flavors over the chile heat of central Vietnam or the hard saltiness of the north, and the region has shown a historical willingness to adopt outside influences. The Lai family has carried on that tradition well, whether emphasizing the fruits and sugars that play to America’s sweet tooth or dropping the odder ingredients that don’t play at all in the United States. Now, the family has built a new restaurant outside of the Eden Center, a gorgeous space full of dark woods and yellow hues, designed to recall the French colonial period in Vietnam. With this, and its other moves large and small, the Lai family has put Vietnamese food squarely in the American mainstream, and it looks great there.
Addendum: To learn more about the Lai family’s rise to prominence, read my cover story, Exit from Eden.
Four Sisters, 8190 Strawberry Lane, Suite 1, Falls Church, Va., (703) 539-8566
Photo by Darrow Montgomery