Cheap Eats: Try 'mom's cooking' at Viet Thai Market Street Café
Jenny DiMarcello said there was a time when the Viet Thai Market Street Café struggled to attract customers.
Her brother Chris Nguyen started the York eatery about 15 years ago when he was fresh out of culinary school. The menu at the time wasn't Thai, but rather a melting pot of cuisines. He served a variety of foods, ranging from egg rolls to fettuccine Alfredo.
"He was quite creative," said DiMarcello, 27.
Her mom, Yen Nguyen, 54, took over the café a few years later and worked on exposing York County to a then-unfamiliar cuisine.
DiMarcello said there wasn't an actual menu at first, and her mom served people whatever dish she was making that day.
She said Dentsply employees regularly came in and asked for chicken quesadillas, and Yen made them a plate of pad thai to go with it.
In the beginning, the business struggled, but DiMarcello said Yen knew it would pull through.
"She kept saying, 'I know it's going to make it . . . . Just believe in me,'" DiMarcello said.
I've been to the eatery several times. Each time, no matter what time of day, the small dining room was almost full, except for a table or two.
On a recent Monday lunch, I ordered vegetable curry with chicken, one of my favorites. The sauce is light and flavorful - mixed with carrots, broccoli, snow peas, bamboo shoots, celery and tender chicken, and served over rice.
I'm a creature of habit at restaurants that I've been to, though I know that Viet Thai has so many more options that I want to explore. Next time, I'll try something new.
DiMarcello said she has some customers who take a menu with them and mark off items they've ordered on a mission to try everything. Some customers trust the cooking so much that they ask to be surprised.
"I hear a lot of people tell me that they've never had a bad meal," she said.
Her mom learned how to cook while growing up in Laos. Yen is Vietnamese and was a refugee in Thailand before coming to Dallastown in 1976.
DiMarcello said Yen doesn't follow any recipes.
"It's not your traditional Vietnamese cooking or your traditional Thai cooking," she said. "It's mom's cooking."
DiMarcello has been running the restaurant for five months since her mom had a stroke.
Without her mom there, she's been working long hours - sometimes 9 a.m. to midnight - with the help of her husband, Joe, brothers and sometimes, even customers who try to pitch in by bringing their dishes to the kitchen.
"We have a lot of regulars and really consider some of them good friends," DiMarcello said, adding that customers have given them some of the restaurant's authentic Thai décor.
Her mom never actually taught DiMarcello to cook, but she learned by watching, and she shares the same palate.
While Yen works to get better, DiMarcello works equally as hard to fill her mom's shoes and sustain the business that took years to build.
"My mom put a lot of effort and a lot of sweat into it," she said. "I can never be half the person she is, though."
Cheap Eats profiles local restaurants with meals for less than $10. Suggestions are welcome. Reach Leigh Zaleski at 771-2101, firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
LOCATION: Viet Thai Market Street Café, 917 E. Market St. in York
CUISINE: Vietnamese and Thai
LEIGH'S PICK: Vegetable curry with chicken, hot tea ($8.50)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
PRICE RANGE: $1 to $16.95
ACCEPTS: Cash and credit
KID'S MENU: Chicken nuggets and french fries
DETAILS: Call 846-9302