Fresh Rolls has expanded — again.
The fast-and-fresh Vietnamese cafe has grown at a pace of about one restaurant a year since Vu Nguyen and Diana Tran debuted their first Fresh Rolls in University Place in 2014.
After UP, the husband-wife team expanded to downtown Tacoma, then Gig Harbor, then the Fircrest area and, as of January, Lakewood.
Did I mention they’re expanding to Proctor and building a new location that will be a slightly different concept? When the cafe opens in Madison 25, a building currently under construction in Proctor, “It will be more of a bistro with varieties of pho, spring rolls and noodle salads,” said Nguyen.
That cafe opening is months away. They’re still working on construction permits. When it does open, it will be next door to the area’s first outpost of Cactus, a Seattle-based restaurant group with a menu highlighting the cuisine of New Mexico.
The Lakewood Fresh Rolls opened in mid-January and carries the sharpest look of all their cafes. The dining room is festooned with modern drop lighting, shiny tables and mirror-and-tile accents. It’s the former home of the Indy Sandwich Co.
As with all locations, diners order at the counter and find their own seat. The emphasis is on speedy service here with diners out the door in minutes.
For newcomers to the fast-casual Vietnamese restaurant, here’s what to know before you go:
▪ Yes, those are calories listed on the menu. The restaurant focuses on fast, fresh and healthy eating. Dietary restriction? No problem. The kitchen staff will build a low-carb salad or mix up a low-sugar drink. Skipping gluten isn’t an issue here as the menu is mostly gluten-free, with the exception of the sandwiches.
▪ The menu covers the greatest hits of Vietnamese dining. As one would assume from the name, the cafe’s specialty is fresh spring rolls. The menu lists six versions of the noodle-and-vegetable rolls wrapped in rice paper and served with a thick-and-creamy Vietnamese peanut dipping sauce ($4.99, order of two). Fillings include shrimp, salmon, pork, beef, chicken and vegetarian tofu versions.
Five kinds of pho come with organic chicken broth and a range of spices ($4.95 to $6.49). Rice bowls include a choice of grilled lemongrass tofu, lemongrass-marinated beef or grilled salmon ($7.99 to $9.99). Salad bowls feature eight flavor combinations including lemongrass beef, green apple and shrimp, grilled salmon, broccoli and shrimp, lemongrass tofu. Salads are built with pickled veggies, fresh herbs and rice noodles ($6.99 to $7.99). Vietnamese (banh mi) sandwiches come in four meat options ($4.99).
▪ The must order, aside from the cafe’s signature fresh roll, is a Vietnamese salad. The tangy dressing comes with a kick of heat that goes well beyond the usual sweet-and-salty fish sauce dressing at a typical Vietnamese cafe. The Fresh Rolls salad is topped with the Vietnamese flavor trifecta — ground peanuts, fried shallots and fresh herbs. There’s also fresh rice noodles and the marinated meat of your choice (I like lemongrass beef).
▪ Coming later this year will be a drink menu inspired by Tran’s current travels through Vietnam.
More pho: We can’t get enough Vietnamese in the region, apparently. Coming soon to Tacoma is Pho Garden in the same shopping center as Target and Hobby Lobby off Union. Gig Harbor diners are reporting a sign has gone up announcing a Vietnamese restaurant at Olympic Town Center. I’m investigating.
Lakewood location: 10240 Bridgeport Way SW, Lakewood.
More locations: ilovefreshrolls.com