Biz Beat

Culinary tour of Vietnam, Afghanistan awaits at new spots in Modesto’s Coffee Plaza

Two families from two countries are living out the same American dream, to delicious effect, in a northeast Modesto shopping center.

The families both have opened restaurants this year in Coffee Plaza, a once nearly vacant complex at the corner of Coffee Road and Floyd Avenue that is slowly filling up and finding new life. Viet Noodles Xpress and Jamal’s Afghan Restaurant & Market join the center’s restaurant mainstays Waffle Shop, Guadalajara Taqueria and Grand Buffet to offer a truly international array of food offerings.

Viet Noodles Xpress, which opened a little over a week ago, is a new Vietnamese restaurant serving sit-down or to-go options daily. Members of the Tran family emigrated from Vietnam to America in the 1980s. They originally settled in the Bay Area, but then moved to Modesto after a few decades and in 2003 opened Pho Hoang Long on Standiford Avenue.

But then some members of the large extended family, which owned and operated the restaurant, moved away, and it closed after six years.

Now, everyone is back in Modesto and back in the restaurant business. About 30 members of the family work on-and-off at the eatery, which serves pho (traditional Vietnamese noodle soup which runs $7.75 to $9.75 depending on size), banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches filled with an assortment of meat and pickled vegetables for $4 to $4.50) and other rice and noodle plates.

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Combination Pho at Viet Noodles Xpress on Coffee Road in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

“We missed the authentic Vietnamese traditions and wanted to bring that variety to Modesto,” said Christina Tran, daughter of one of the owners Sunny Tran.

The restaurant’s pho in particular is a standout thanks to the eight hours they take to simmer the rich, flavorful broth.

The 2,700-square-foot-space, formerly a pizza shop, was completely remodeled. Tran said her family did most of the work over the past year, and the result is a crisp, clean and contemporary space where you can peek into the kitchen and see soup bubbling away.

Besides its full to-order menu, the restaurant has an area with pre-prepared dishes for fast to-go service. And you can also pick up freshly made packaged bánh bao buns, sweet pandan bread and popular sweet rice cake street snacks wrapped in banana leaves.

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Banh It and Want Tet sweet snacks at Viet Noodles Xpress on Coffee Road in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

While the family is thrilled to be back feeding Modesto, Christina Tran said they’re equally proud that all of the family has now successfully applied and become American citizens — including her mother, who was naturalized last year.

“This restaurant brings us all together and everyone is glad to be back here,” she said.

Viet Noodles Xpress, at 2400 Coffee Road, Suite H, is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information call 209-596-4274 or visit www.facebook.com/vietnoodlesxpress1.

New Afghan restaurant, market

A few doors down, in the center’s elbow of sorts, sits Jamal’s Afghan Restaurant & Market. Opened in January, the small restaurant and market offers authentic Afghan food.

Brother-and-sister team Ali and Zari Razaqi run the restaurant — he manages and she cooks. Like the Trans, the family emigrated to America more than three decades ago. They fled during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Zari Razaqi ran a successful alterations and custom dressmaking business in San Jose for many years. They became American citizens about 15 years ago.

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Jamal’s Afgan Restaurant and Market on Coffee Road in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

In 2013, the family came to the Central Valley, and she started to look for other kinds of work. She called on her own background, growing up with her father as a general in the Afghan military. She picked up her culinary skills while watching the cooks and chefs her family employed as a child.

Their restaurant has a modest interior with a few booths and tables, plus a market section with shelves carrying a small selection of Afghan ingredients and house-made relishes and other preserves.

While it may not be fancy, their food is packed with flavor and everything is made fresh. That includes the various breads, like bolani (potato-stuffed flatbread) and roat (a sweet bread).

For those unfamiliar with Afghan food, Zari Razaqi describes it similar to Indian and Persian food — yet still distinctly its own thing. The menu features many rice and meat-based dishes, as well as vegetarian options and fresh-baked desserts.

You’ll find kebobs ($9.75 to $11.95), just don’t expect any skewers. Some dishes are cooked in a tandoori oven, like popular Indian specialties, but it’s not as spicy as the curries and chili sauces from that country. Dishes like kubuli are brown rice cooked with spices and mixed with raisins, carrots and beef ($9.95).

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Assorted dishes at Jamal’s Afgan Restaurant and Market on Coffee Road in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

Still, if you’ve got an unadventurous eater in the family, the restaurant also makes its own burgers ($4.95 to $5.95) and pizza ($6 to $14.95).

“We have repeat customers who eat here once and then start coming back,” said Ali Razaqi. “This is homemade cooking and people like that. So try the food, see if you like it.”

The restaurant also offers delivery through DoorDash and will soon add Grubhub. Jamal’s Afghan Restaurant & Market, 2400 Coffee Road Suite L, is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. For more information call 209-567-2280 or visit jamals-afghan-restaurant-market.business.site.

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Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs midweek and Sundays. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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