CO, A Vietnamese Gem in the Middle of Charleston, SC, Offers a Vegan Menu!
It is the second Sunday of the month, meaning King Street has been cordoned off for the day. Restaurants spill onto the curbs with tables and bright umbrellas in an air of camaraderie and joie de vivre. Waiters carry fragrant platters of myriad foodstuffs and drink to cheerful tourists. Dog walkers and young mothers pushing baby strollers maneuver around them and the city becomes alive with students, street musicians, Citadel cadets and sundry on-lookers, the young and wizened alike.
The first leg of our vegan trek through the historic city of Charleston, SC, takes us to CO, a charming Vietnamese restaurant located on King Street. It is nestled amid the lovely sunbathed pastel architecture indicative of Charleston, right in the heart of its busy shopping district near the intersection of George Street.
We order our usual water with no ice and I ask Sam, our waitress, to point out the vegan items on the menu. She exchanges the menu in my hand with a vegan and gluten-free menu and the issue is immediately resolved. The name “CO” means “Feast” in Vietnamese, which certainly is appropriate for this restaurant which offers a wide range of choices. We spoke at length with Josh, the general manager. He explains the produce used in preparing CO’s food is locally sourced, though no great attention has been paid to the presence of GMO’s. After suffering, with patience and grace, through my lecture on the subject perhaps in the future that will change. One restaurant at a time is my policy! (He’ll be quizzed on the subject on our next visit.)
CO is housed in narrow building sandwiched between two shops. When you walk in you’ll first see the full bar against a wall of red brick and a staircase leading to the second floor where more seating options are available. Beside the bar is a long community table, which is where we settled, still enjoying the drama of the street scene. Two contented customers ensconced at the other end of the table had their faces practically buried in bowls of steaming Pho, completely oblivious to our presence. Many of CO’s customers were seated outside enjoying their meals in perfect weather.
We ordered an appetizer of Tofu Buns, crispy tofu with pickles, carrots and cilantro ($6). Tofu Buns are a kind of slider with an Asian flair on a crispy bun. The pickles tempered the heaviness of the fried tofu with a lighter sweet/sour flavor, while the cilantro gave it a spicy bite. It was served with CO’s signature ginger miso sauce.
We also ordered the Crispy Edamame Spring Roll stuffed with mixed vegetables and served with the ginger miso sauce($6). Also available was a lemongrass tofu spring roll of fresh herbs, rice vermicelli and bean sprouts served with a peanut sauce. ($6)
For lunch, Rich ordered the Banh Mi, ($8) a submarine style Vietnamese sandwich of grilled tofu sauteed with lemongrass and garlic. It was served on a crispy baguette with cucumbers, pickled carrots, jalapeño and cilantro. He left nothing on the plate so it is safe to assume he enjoyed it. We actually share our meals and I thought it was very good as well, though I would have preferred to have the Yakisoba to myself, it was that delicious.
I ordered the Yakisoba ($13). This is a dish of steaming rice noodles, tofu, cabbage, carrots, onion, zucchini and garlic in a sweet Mirin soy sauce. It did not really compare to the Yakisoba noodles I used to order in Japan. That would be like comparing apples and oranges. Soba noodles in Japan are typically made of buckwheat noodles. Literally meaning “fried noodles,” I have no idea what an authentic Vietnamese Yakisoba should taste like. These noodles seemed to have been boiled, they were so fresh and light, though I could certainly be mistaken. I only know that the dish I had at CO’s was bursting with robust flavor, loaded with delicate fresh vegetables and was absolutely delicious. Definitely something I will order again and again.
Surprisingly, in this city known for its Low Country Boil and Shrimp and Grits, there are quite a few restaurants in Charleston where one can find at least one meal that is entirely plant-based. However, there are very few that offer as many options as CO on King Street. It is definitely worth trying. I know it will be a favorite eating spot for Rich and me whenever we visit Charleston!
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