If you’ve never been to Ashland, Oregon, our city of some 20,000 residents, you’re in for a treat. Nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains, clean, friendly, Ashland is as scenic as it is safe. We’ve got a thriving theater scene, an over 100-acre park right in the middle of downtown, four bookstores, lots of great independently-owned boutiques, and so many activities to keep you busy in the wintertime that you can come here in the off season and be as happy as if you visit to see Shakespeare.
It’s not all perfect. The city has made some unfortunate and short-sighted choices. Ashland closed one of the best neighborhood schools, sending a clear message to young families that the older generation is more important to city officials than children (and then lamenting that families with children decide to get out of Dodge); there have been several air stagnation advisories this winter as fog and pollution gets too easily trapped in our valley; Ashlanders are so fond of their alternative fueled vehicles that they drive them everywhere (all the while bragging about how environmentally conscientious we are); and our hills are overrun with mangy deer that the city, rather illogically, restricts residents from shooting and eating.
Despite these imperfections, you couldn’t hope for a better place to live or visit. We’ve got state-of-the-art fair trade organic you’ll-have-dreams-about-it-it’s-that-good coffee in a state known for making one fine cup of Joe; more outdoor recreation than you can do in a season; dinner theater; and high school productions that rival Broadway (I’m not exaggerating), in addition to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; and about 500,000 other reasons to visit.
If you’re new to this blog, Project Discover Ashland is my quest to visit and experience places in my city where I haven’t been before. So far I’ve been to one winery, one beach in Southern California (Ashland by any other name…), and one cool tourist shop that’s technically a non-profit (only here) and staffed mostly by volunteers. My To Visit List gets longer by the day and includes a back stage tour of an ice cream eatery, our local chocolate factory, and going to a psychic (do I dare?). But you’ll have to come back to read about those.
Today we’re heading to Vietnam, to a new restaurant called Tot.
The one thing we miss about not living in a big city (James and I met in grad school in Atlanta) is the profusion of world cuisines. In Atlanta you can get almost anything you want, made by natives, cheap! Ethiopian, Eritrean, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Taiwanese, Venezuelan, most of them less expensive than you could make yourself at home, an easy drive from downtown to the immigrant communities strung along Buford Highway. Sure, Ashland has Thai and Indian and a couple lackluster Chinese places. But they’re not much to write home about. So when we found out there was a new Vietnamese place, called Tot, we made a lunch date for our anniversary this week and walked down to the hodgepodge building that also houses Video Explorer, Rogue Books, and a workout place.
The menu is simple: Vietnamese sandwiches, barbecued meats with rice, soups, salads and snacks.
The owners have a son who’s in fifth grade and plays Dungeons and Dragons with our son; We first heard of the restaurant when they sent along some sandwiches to the kids’ weekly D&D game. James liked the sandwich quarter he had eaten while rolling dice so much he got a whole brisket sandwich, served on a baguette with greens, chili slices on the side and optional lime squeeze. I ordered shrimp and coconut Tom Yum Vietnamese soup, spicy. Both were delicious. The owner, Andrew, brought out some complimentary tater tots made with garlic and a savory sauce, and James indulged in a sweet Vietnamese coffee.
The interior of this unassuming restaurant is warm and decorated in a hip, cheerful way; but we sat in the lobby area with the now-giant plants growing out of the planters under the skylights which bathed our table in sun.
James already has his meal picked out for our next trip there, which will be for dinner with the kids.
I have my eye on the siu mai dumplings and the mushroom broth soup with spinach dumplings. Our vegetarian daughters will have choices in every category.
This restaurant’s a keeper.
The only problem is the location. We’ve watched so many places come and go from the same spot, and so many restaurants seem to go out of business in Ashland.
Can Tot do well enough during Shakespeare to stay open year round? Check out the food and let me know what you think.
Tot is open Monday – Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
310 Oak Street