I’ve written in this space before that while “Vietnamese cuisine is more than the sum of its conquerors’ and colonial rulers’ foods…that’s definitely a good place to start.” And, of those, a millennium of Chinese dominance was certain to leave a mark. Tim Ky Noodle (9330 Mira Mesa Boulevard) is an excellent place to experience that impact.
Tim Ky is essentially Vietnamese folk of Chinese descent doing a Chinese restaurant. Perhaps more specifically, what they’re doing is a Chinese noodle house. The menu reflects this, as do the flavors.
One of the best dishes at Tim Ky is the wonton and dumpling egg noodle soup. The light and tasty chicken broth was perhaps most notable for what it didn’t feature front and center: MSG. The deliciousness was from bones, not a bottle. But the stars of the dish were the single fried shrimp dumpling and the pork and shrimp wontons. Instead of being hard little rocks inside, the latter were soft, supple, moist and tasty.
Their chow fun is another Chinese-style classic available either dry (without sauce) or wet (with sauce). While the Tim Ky staff tends to push the combination (“something for everyone”), my favorite was the chicken version. The dry is excellent, straight-forward and delicious: The noodles are the star, the proteins performing the part of supporting players. The wet has more of an American-style Chinese comfort feel, with the corn starch-thickened sauce bringing those proteins to the front of the stage.
One of the most elegant dishes at Tim Ky is the beef stir fry with asparagus and mushrooms. The freshness and balance of the dish suggest a Cantonese origin. While the beef may seem like it will be the focus of the dish, it isn’t: The asparagus and mushrooms are. It’s really all about the vegetables.
Tim Ky’s chicken wings—both the fish sauce and the salt and pepper versions—are inconsistent. At times they’re amongst the best in town. On other trips, though, they’ve been overcooked to the point of the inedible. The fish sauce version is the better bet.
While Tim Ky does not have an extensive set of offal offerings, what they do have is both excellent and some of the best dishes at the restaurant. The hot sate beef tripe with rice noodles, for example, is a profoundly fragrant dish bursting with a lemongrass-, garlic- and shallot-infused beef broth. The dish, as a whole, features the bits of tripe that provide a wonderful textural contrast to the noodles and the rest of the dish.
Perhaps, though, my favorite dish at Tim Ky was the pork kidney and ground pork egg noodle soup. It was, basically, the in-your-face version of the wonton and dumpling soup. Those pork kidneys were Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary debates or your crazy uncle at Christmas dinner. But featuring them in this supremely comforting dish lent it a new, edgy meaning.
There are a few more prototypically “Vietnamese” dishes on the menu—including a creditable banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe)—but that’s not what Tim Ky is really about. What it is about is that millennium of Chinese dominance and the ethnic, cultural and culinary legacy it left in its wake.