Tired of Thai? Weary of wasabi? If you want a great Asian meal that will shake off the sameness, Monsoon is the place to go.
Located in a small but well-designed storefront on 19th Ave E. (across the street from Kingfish Cafe), Monsoon delivers well-crafted Vietnamese and Pan-Asian food in a lively, modern setting. Particular favorites are the black cod hotpot (flaky, buttery cod with a rich broth), gailan crispy chicken (addictive battered and fried chicken with spicy sauce), and green beans (lightly sauteed yard-long beans with pepper flakes). The beer selection is minimal - a few crisp SE Asian favorites like Tiger and 33 - but a great selection of wines, well-paired with the light-but-spicy food.
A few caveats: don't expect an intimate experience - Monsoon is often crowded, and the minimalist design (concrete floors, angular wooden benches) doesn't do much to hold down the noise. There's often a wait on Friday and Saturday nights; I recommend putting your name on the list and crossing the street to the lively bar at Kingfish (a great scene all on its own). Finally, some folks complain that the prices here are higher than those at the Pho shops on Aurora, a fair charge, but one that doesn't take into account the great atmosphere, lively scene, pleasant service and excellent people-watching. If you ask me, it's well worth the price.