You're wandering Inala's main square. Pause to explore the produce stores loaded with betel leaves, perilla, sawtooth coriander, and mountains of other fresh herbs. Resist, if you can, the temptation to snap up too many rainbow coloured sweets in the open air stalls. Pass by the tables packed with elderly Vietnamese men playing games of xiangqi.
Now see if you can find the sign marking the entrance to the Probation and Parole office. (Don't worry, the business taking place inside does not concern you.) It's down an alleyway, near a shop overflowing with green mangoes and other tropical fruits. Open the sliding door of the restaurant opposite. Now you're in Tan Thanh - the next best thing to hopping on a plane bound for Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, or Nha Trang.
The first thing you notice about this place is that it's packed - but not crowded. On both occasions I've visited, my companion and I have been shown to the same table-for-two by the door. That's because it's unusual for just two people to be dining together here. Typically, it's extended families eating elbow to elbow - Mum, Dad, the kids, the grandparents, the aunties and uncles, the cousins, and anyone else who has decided to join them.The resulting diversity, movement, colour and commotion creates a great atmosphere for those who visit Tan Thanh.
Thick noodle soups made with long-simmered stock made in-house form the basis of the menu here, though a range of other favourites, including deep fried wontons, spring rolls and rice paper rolls, also feature. There is a roll-your-own option for rice paper rolls, but being hopelessly unskilled at this task, I ordered the pork and prawn option already made up. They were bursting with flavour and freshness. The accompanying dipping sauce, though pleasant, is standard, so add a hit of sriracha if you'd prefer to sweat.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the no-frills decor, this restaurant is a standout. Offering fresh, flavoursome and budget-friendly food, and brisk, no-nonsense service, Tan Thanh is the perfect Vietnamese getaway for those who can't afford a getaway.