The other day, something was fed to me by one social medium or another in that way that social media feeds us what they think interests us. In my case, that is often food. What’s more, they are correct. I’m interested in cooking, dining out, shopping for food in interesting places. It was a list of some sort that dealt with restaurants in each state. The name that caught my attention was Saigon Bistro and Pho.
I didn’t even bother to look up the restaurant’s website because the name annoyed me so thoroughly that I vowed I would never, ever eat at a restaurant that had both of the words Saigon and Bistro in its name. For a restaurant to have the name bistro in it, the other word should be Francais or Château or d’Armor. Yes, I recall the ties between France and Vietnam, but still, a Pho bistro?
Perhaps I’m too sensitive. Back in the early 1990s, the business for which I worked moved its offices to the downtown area. It was the lower downtown area, to be exact — the area where there were railroad tracks and homeless people who jumped the trains. It was rundown and sad. The only two restaurants in the vicinity were a Mexican bar and a diner that served cheap breakfast and lunch, with offerings like tuna salad sandwiches and biscuits and gravy, with a choice of a watered-down soda or bad coffee.
Things changed, however. It wasn’t much later that Coors Field was constructed in lower downtown to house the Colorado Rockies baseball team. And it wasn’t much longer after the field was built that people started calling the lower downtown area Lodo.
All of that was actually a welcome change, because women employees no longer had to be escorted to their cars after work. More restaurants began springing up, offering more options.
Interstate 25 sort of slices the Denver metro area in half. This was certainly true for years. West of downtown — on the other side of I-25 — was referred to as North Denver. For many years, North Denver was where the Italian population huddled. Every other block offered a Mom-and-Pop Italian restaurant, serving spaghetti and meatballs, cannoli, and hand-tossed pizza. The restaurants were casual and had loyal customers who maybe went out every Saturday with their families to give Grandma a break from making her own red gravy.
At some point, Mexican immigrants began moving into that area. That was fine, though, because they brought with them delicious smothered burritos and fiery enchiladas. The customers were much like those of the Italian restaurants — families with kids.
And then came progress. North Denver is gone. The area is now called Highlands, or Lohi, or Rino, or any other combination of names to satisfy all of the urban dwellers who tore down small bungalows and put up enormous homes that look like something Mussolini would have approved. Any open space was filled with those same Mussolini-looking apartment buildings. Bike shops and clothing stores took over the tortilla shops and Italian markets.
I don’t hate progress; I really don’t. But I will admit to being sad that cities like Denver are becoming so homogenized. Maybe I’m just disappointed, because it used to be so much fun to park our car on a neighborhood street to walk to Patsy’s or Pagliacci’s, and see kids playing in the front yard and people sitting on their porches.
Having said all of the above, I have to admit something. I finally broke down and googled Saigon Bistro. Much to my surprise, the restaurant is located not in Lodo or downtown anywhere. Instead, it is located in a part of Aurora (a suburb east and south of Denver) in a fairly plain-looking strip mall that includes an assortment of mostly Asian restaurants. The menu is legit Vietnamese. The dishes are written first in Vietnamese and, reluctantly, in English down below. I’m going to visit that restaurant as soon as I can. I will forgive the use of Bistro.
And I won’t order a martini.