Hy vong in Vietnamese means "hope," which pretty much sums up the emotional state of the nightly crowd that lingers outside this 36-seat hole-in-the-wall in the heart of Calle Ocho.
"We're running on Cuban time tonight," says Kathy Manning, co-owner of Hy Vong, who placates the hungry mob with fistfuls of imported beer including China's Tsing Tao ($3.50), Belgium's Kriek Framboise raspberry ale ($6.50), and, of course, Vietnam's 33 Export ($3.50). But what's new? Ever since Manning met Tung Nguyen — who in 1975 was 28 years old, pregnant, and fresh off a fishing boat fleeing war-torn Vietnam — and opened Hy Vong in 1980, these two food-savvy ladies have been reeling in the masses. And unless they're part of a party of five or more with reservations, patrons have to endure the restaurant's strict (and arguably cruel) first-come/first-served policy. Even though a wait for a table can take up to an hour, this place isn't like neighboring Versailles or La Carreta, where grub comes quickly. Expect to wait an additional hour for thit kho (pork stewed in coconut milk, $12), duck breast with black currant dressing ($15), or any other of the fresh and exquisite made-to-order entrées. After one bite of a dish such as fish wrapped in pastry with watercress/cream-cheese dressing ($15.95), combined with extremely reasonable prices — two simple yet mouth-watering cha glo spring rolls are only $4 — you'll forget about the delay.
Even mishaps such as running out of food are excusable. When the fish for a seared fresh fillet served with mango and peppercorns ($16.95) ran out on a recent Saturday night, Nguyen quickly improvised with large, succulent scallops smothered in strips of mango and pineapple, exceeding any diner's expectations.
Roused but not sold? Warm yourself up to the place with one of Hy Vong's Heat and Eat Delicacies ($6 to $7), which includes house favorite rolling cakes stuffed with a pork-mushroom mixture. These frozen delights are available at local gourmet markets such as Gardner's Market (7301 Red Rd., Miami) and Norman Brothers Produce (7621 Galloway Rd., Miami). Unlike an evening in the restaurant, the wait time is only a few minutes.