Visit Vietnam

It's no coincidence that Ashland's Tot Restaurant seems transplanted from one of Portland's hip districts.

Whenever co-owner Sean Simpson visited the Rose City, he gravitated to its Vietnamese cuisine.

It's understandable that Simpson didn't want to travel so far for a taste of Southeast Asia. And his Tot Restaurant took over the former location of a forgettable Chinese eatery in the Oak Street Center about a month ago.

Redecorated with repurposed wood juxtaposed with metal and concrete, Tot offers an industrial-chic aesthetic and casual atmosphere. Flavorful fare prepared by chef and co-owner Andrew Will has a nice price point for Ashland.

The restaurant's name, according to its website, is a play on the Vietnamese word for "good." Indeed, Simpson and Will are producing the most credible local versions of Vietnamese specialties such as banh mi and green papaya salad. Also willing to tweak tradition, the team devised house tater "tots" of rice and potatoes with tamarind-barbecue or peanut sauce for dipping.

Vietnam's quintessential noodle soup, pho, is served on Fridays. On other days, soup-loving customers can order Thailand's tom yum, a hot-and-sour broth flavored with lemon grass, or house-made pork-and-shimp dumpling soup with greens and turnips.

With just a few vegetarian selections, Tot leans in a carnivorous direction, including entrees of barbecue beef brisket, pork, ribs and game hen ($11-$12). The baguette sandwich known as banh mi comes in brisket, pork, meatball or grilled veggie versions.

Grilled tofu tops the papaya salad and punctuates the tom yum's clear broth, light enough to enjoy on a hot day and not overly spiced. Order it with shrimp instead for $9.

At $6, the banh mi served on custom-made La Baguette bread is a steal. Diners can infer that prices are meant to reflect the Asian street food that Will so loves and cooked for family and friends when he wasn't working at some of Ashland's finer restaurants.

He doesn't cut corners at Tot, either, making all the dressings, sauces, pickles and even sausages. Seasonal specials, including lettuce wraps and summer rolls, join the regular menu, posted on a large blackboard behind the counter, where customers place their orders.

Recommended: Classic banh mi sandwich with sliced pork, or ask for it without meat and a larger portion of paté; dumpling and tom yum soups; Vietnamese coffee so distinguished by its serving of sweetened condensed milk.

Alternative diets: One vegetarian entree, soup, sandwich and salad; some organic, locally grown produce.

Beverages: Hot or iced coffee and tea; bottled soda and juice; complimentary citrus- and herb-infused water.

Price range: Entrees, $9 to $12; salads, $4 to $10; soups, $7 to $9; sandwiches, $6; snacks, $2 to $6; add-ons and substitutions, $2 to $2.50.

Extras: Outdoor seating at blue-painted picnic tables; free parking in large shopping-center lot.

Serving: From 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Info: 310 Oak St., Ashland (inside Oak Street Center); 541-488-7986;

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