Yesterday I promised a retro meal and this is just the place for it: the Rex Hotel, an establishment that dates from the 1960s, one of a large number of hotels that offered fixed rates for foreign GIs who were on rest and relaxation breaks during the Vietnam War. The Rex Hotel is still in business, still owned by the original family, in fact. It has undergone some remodels but has never lost that 1960s charm. Its coffee shop, the Rexa Coffee Hall, is still famous for its khao tom, boiled rice.
Despite fresh coats of paint, the Rexa Coffee Hall screams 1960s with its delightfully unselfconscious menu design, booth upholstery, and table dividers.
We ate at an off hour and there was only one other group dining. The Rex Hotel focuses mostly on package tour groups these days and with tourism way down, I’m sure there is a low occupancy level. Notice the staff, wearing the classic red jackets and bow ties.
The Rexa Coffee Hall has a wide menu of both Thai and Western items – eight types of sandwiches, for example – all of which are decent without being flashy and all of which are inexpensive. They are most famous for their boiled rice, khao tom, a Thai breakfast favorite. The rice porridge is served with a variety of side dishes. You can mix and match to get whatever flavors you want to contrast with the backdrop of bland rice.
One must-try is jab chai, which literally means “leftovers”. A mixture of whatever is left over, the Rexa’s version includes bitter greens stewed with tofu, pork belly, and chicken feet. Not very pretty but it is very tasty.
Pad tua ngoc – Bean sprouts stir-fried with pork and tofu. Clean flavors and very refreshing.
Kai jiaow – omelet with fried pork Omelets here are fried in plenty of oil but they always seem to come out without being oily. I guess they keep the pan really hot.
Finally, my choice, some gun chien tod – Fried sweet Chinese sausage
The Rexa is going to get some return visits from me. With a menu so inexpensive and varied and a location so close to my home, it would be a good break for when I need to get out of the house for lunch.
I’m on my way to the United States today so there may be a few days without an entry. Stay tuned, though. Next stop, Omaha.