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BEST VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT Minneapolis 1998 -

Readers' Choice: Lotus

It might not look like much from the outside--actually it looks like a down-at-the-heels VFW hall, which it was until not too long ago--but down in the basement is a treasure of swell Vietnamese cooking. (Well, with a little Chinese flavor: egg noodles are a Chinese staple.) Pick from more than a hundred soups: the barbecued pork, fish-ball, and wontons with clear rice noodles? (Remember that the French call fish balls quenelles and that will make these pale little meatballs made of fish easier to order--they're good.) Or how about a big bowl of meatballs and shrimp with egg noodles? That's one that'll stand up to as many fresh jalapeños as you want to add, so it's good that a little dish of them arrives with the soup. Shrimp wontons in a translucent broth are extraordinary, and we say the bun (noodle salads) can't be beat. True, it's not white-tablecloth dining, but with nearly everything on the menu priced at less than $6, the convenient 10-a.m.-to-8:30-p.m., seven-days-a-week hours, and the To (pronounced toe) family keeping you full of water and tea, we're hard-pressed not to spend all our free time here.

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