This elongated corner shack doesn't look inviting (except for the convenient parking lot), but veteran restaurateur Julie Mai (formerly of Uptown's Julie Mai's Le Bistro) has done her best to jazz up the inside of MC Restaurant & Lounge, with crimson walls framing the long bar and colorful photomurals of Vietnamese markets decorating lime-green walls. While menus on Argyle Street tend to be overwhelming, this one goes in the opposite direction: it's very limited and tailored to novices. Still, if you're in the hood and craving a bowl of pho, the hearty beef broth passes muster, with properly prepared rice noodles and a side plate of bean sprouts, hot green chiles, and Vietnamese basil to add; the menu lists beef or chicken, but you also can get meatballs, alone or in combination. Of half a dozen appetizers, we tried fresh spring rolls with shrimp, which were enjoyable except for too-rubbery rice paper, and jumbo shrimp bistro, crispy deep-fried crustaceans dabbed with creamy house sauce and sprinkled with crushed peanuts. Lemongrass pork, pungent with fish sauce and red chiles, was our most exciting entree, but the meat was rather chewy. So were the big chunks of beef in beef tonado, though the sauteed and pickled onions in a wine-based sauce flavorfully reflected the French influence on the cuisine. My favorite dessert: sliced bananas in warm coconut milk with tiny tapioca and chopped peanuts.
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