Back in the 1970s, Clarendon was known as Little Saigon, a hotbed of Vietnamese businesses. Now, only a few holdovers remain.
Reminders of Clarendon’s Little Saigon past continues to fade. Minh’s Vietnamese Restaurant, a favorite of some foodies, closed last month. While newer Vietnamese restaurants have opened recently — Four Sisters Grill in Clarendon, Pho Deluxe in Courthouse — there’s no denying that the character of Clarendon has changed significantly over the past decade.
The original reason for the disappearance of most of the original Vietnamese businesses in Clarendon was the construction of Metro’s Orange Line up Wilson Blvd. After the Clarendon station opened in 1979, the neighborhood started to be redeveloped and rent prices skyrocketed. Before the Metro expansion, real estate rental costs were as low as $1.50-$5.00 per square foot. After its opening, prices rose as high as $25-$30 per square foot in some buildings.
The construction of Metro was another contributor. Many businesses fled Clarendon because they thought the construction would deter potential customers. By the 1990s, much of the Vietnamese community had left Clarendon en masse for Falls Church and the Eden Center.
Out of the dozens of Vietnamese businesses that once existed in Clarendon, one restaurant has remained over the past few decades: Nam-Viet. The restaurant has been family owned and operated since 1986 and it continues to attract loyal customers to its slightly off-the-beaten path location on N. Hudson Street, not far from the CVS Pharmacy and Don Tito.
The restaurant has hosted well-known public figures like Bill Clinton and for years, it hosted an annual Tet dinner honoring American prisoners of war from the Vietnam War.
The restaurant’s new manager, Richard Nguyen, has witnessed a lot of changes after growing up in the area helping to run the Nam-Viet with his parents.
“Clarendon has gone through many metamorphoses,” he said. “It used to be a general collection of small businesses to newer commercial shops opening. I remember growing up there was a flea market where Northside Social is. It’s gotten younger, but at the same time the residents have gotten older and aged with us. Regardless of the change they’ve embraced Arlington as home especially the natives of Arlington.”
Richard remains optimistic for the future Vietnamese restaurants.
“I think Vietnamese restaurants are here to stay they just have to stick to traditions and keep to culture as much as they can,” he said.
Video by Omar DeBrew. Some photos in the video were sourced from Arlington’s Echoes of Little Saigon Project.