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Sài Gòn

I've reviewed nearly two dozen cheap eateries over the past six months, and Sài Gòn is one of the best. This Vietnamese restaurant serves delicious food and dark coffee at with prices that make it difficult to spend more than $15 on a three-course meal.

Meals begin with complimentary hot tea and a smile from the pleasant and efficient waitstaff. Appetizers and soups ($2.50 to $4) include veggie rolls, fried wontons, spicy cabbage salad, and a particularly pleasing crab soup -- a savory mix of fresh shrimp, tomatoes, rice noodles, bean sprouts, and crab meat.

Sài Gòn offers 48 entrees ($5.50 to $9), made with either chicken, beef, pork, seafood, or vegetables; all the stocks, sauces, and marinades are made from scratch. Of those we sampled, the beef with tofu and scallions, with its thick and rich black-bean sauce, won top honors. Also excellent are the caramel shrimp with onions and green peppers, and the honey-fried banana ($2.50) for dessert.

Sài Gòn, located at 431 Cambridge Street, in Allston, is open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., on Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and on Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. No credit cards. Call 254-3373.

-- Theresa Regli

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